Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative movement disorder.
It causes neurons that produce dopamine, a brain chemical used to help control muscle movement, to slowly die. This causes different complications, mainly motor, such as slowness of movement, tremors, stiffness and imbalance. Here we review the main myths surrounding this condition.
Myth 1: Parkinson’s disease only affects movement
Tremor is the best-known symptom of Parkinson’s disease, so they are inevitably linked. However, many people may develop non-motor symptoms before the tremor appears. There are even cases where tremors are not experienced at any time during the progression of the disease.
Other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Problems with balance and walking.
- Stiff muscles.
- Muscle pains.
- Low blood pressure.
- stooped posture
- Sweating and not being able to control body temperature.
- Slow blink.
- Difficulty swallowing, and drooling.
- Lack of facial expression.
- Difficulty initiating movement, such as starting to walk or getting up from a chair.
- Slow movements.
- Loss of fine motor skills in the hand.
Anxiety, stress and tension, confusion, dementia, depression, fainting, and memory loss associated with Parkinson’s disease have also been reported.
Myth 2: Genes cause Parkinson’s disease
This is a widespread myth, but not necessarily true. The researchers note that only about 10% of people with Parkinson’s disease have relatives who have developed the disease. Therefore, genetic predisposition can be seen as a risk factor, but not as a sole culprit. Currently, the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown.
Myth 3: Parkinson’s disease is fatal
That’s not true. Although Parkinson’s disease can increase the risk of certain factors that reduce the life expectancy of patients, such as an increased chance of falls or problems swallowing, it is not a fatal condition, as it can be, for example, ischemic heart disease or cerebrovascular accidents.
Myth 4: Parkinson’s disease only affects older adults
It is normal to associate Parkinson’s disease exclusively with old age, given that it is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in people over 65 years of age (after Alzheimer’s).
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However, Parkinson’s disease can be diagnosed in young people, it is estimated that between 5 and 10% of the total cases correspond to those under 45 years of age, and that 0.25% corresponds to those under 21 years of age. This is often known as early-onset Parkinson’s.
Myth 5: Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s are the same
Although both conditions are neurodegenerative and chronic, they have important differences. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and is characterized by causing memory problems, in the way of thinking and in the way of behaving. In contrast, Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system causing early motor impairment.
Myth 6: Parkinson’s disease only affects men
This is also not true. Women can get Parkinson’s disease, only, for unknown reasons, it’s more common in men. It is estimated that for every five people affected, three are men and two women.
Another aspect that seems to differ is the symptomatology, since in men sexual problems tend to manifest more frequently, while in women it is more common for anxiety, pain or constipation to occur.
Myth 7: People with Parkinson’s disease can experience “flare-ups”
Parkinson’s disease does not tend to have flare-ups or flare-ups of its symptoms, as it does with other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Normally, the signs of Parkinson’s disease progress slowly, and if they suddenly worsen, it’s probably due to other factors, such as infections, anxiety, medication errors, or medication side effects, among others.
Myth 8: There is no treatment for Parkinson’s disease
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, however, medications can help people control the symptoms caused by this condition.
One of the most effective is levodopa, which once in the body is converted into dopamine. And while its effectiveness may wane over time (actually, it’s the production of the enzyme needed to convert levodopa to dopamine that declines as the disease progresses), researchers say it can be used effectively for decades.
Myth 9: Beyond medication, nothing can help Parkinson’s disease
It’s important to follow your doctors’ recommendations and take the medications they recommend to treat Parkinson’s disease. However, there is increasing evidence showing that certain lifestyle changes can be an excellent complement to drugs, helping to reduce the symptoms of this condition.
Experts recommend regular exercise, proper sleep, and a healthy diet.
Sources consulted: Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Disease Association of America, US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Mental Health.