Dr. Rowan Wathes
Associate Director, Parkinson’s Excellence Network
Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. Around 145,000 people in the UK have the condition, but everyone’s experience is different due to there being more than 40 symptoms.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition and there is currently no cure. The condition develops when nerve cells — that are responsible for producing the chemical dopamine — die.
Dopamine allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that coordinate movement. With the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells, these parts of the brain are unable to work normally, causing symptoms of Parkinson’s to appear. As dopamine levels continue to fall, existing symptoms will further develop, and new symptoms will appear.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s
The three most recognised symptoms of Parkinson’s are a tremor (shaking), slowness of movement and rigidity or muscle stiffness. However, there are over 40 symptoms, and how they first present themselves can vary from person to person.
Someone might start having balance or coordination problems. They could lose their sense of smell or experience gait changes, where they lean forward slightly or shuffle when walking. Other people have fixed facial expressions (or a ‘mask’) due to changes in the nerves that control their facial muscles. They might struggle with low mood and fatigue, or their handwriting could become smaller and difficult to read. Insomnia, apathy and anxiety can also be early signs of Parkinson’s.
Everyone’s Parkinson’s is unique, so different treatment combinations will suit different people.
What treatments are available?
There’s currently no cure for Parkinson’s; but medication, physical activity and physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy can all be used to manage symptoms.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a type of surgery that people may be offered if drug treatments become less effective at easing movement symptoms. It doesn’t stop Parkinson’s from progressing, but in many cases, it gives people with the condition better control of their motor symptoms.
Everyone’s Parkinson’s is unique, so different treatment combinations will suit different people. Anyone concerned that they may have Parkinson’s should see their GP. Getting information about the condition and finding support can be a huge help for people who are diagnosed.
“Receiving a Parkinson’s diagnosis can initially be devastating, but you can’t let it beat you and there’s a lot of support available. I’m still living life on my own terms, and when people ask me how they can help I always say by treating me exactly the same as before.”