Parkinson's disease FAQs

Parkinson's disease FAQs

Parkinson's disease FAQs

What is the outlook for someone with Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is not yet preventable or curable, but a diagnosis is not a death sentence. Parkinson’s Disease itself does not cause death. Related symptoms causing other medical complications, however (such as choking due to swallowing difficulties or falling) can be fatal if not effectively treated or managed by a medical professional.

Not all diagnosed individuals will experience the most advanced or severe stages of the disease. Most will experience mild to moderate levels of disability. Not every individual will experience the full range of expected symptoms either. A small percentage of diagnosed individuals will not respond well to treatment options and will eventually develop severe disability during the advanced stages.

It is also not entirely possible to predict how slowly or quickly the disease will progress. In general, it has been noted that the average life-expectancy is similar to that of others in generally good health.

It is critical to be able to recognise the major symptoms characteristic of the disease early enough in order to implement treatment as soon as possible. This provides a person with the best possible outlook and chance of a much-improved quality of life or as near to normal as can be achieved.

Are there other conditions that can resemble Parkinson’s disease?

Conditions with similar sets of major symptoms are collectively known as Parkinsonism. Conditions that involve multiple system atrophy, corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy, Lewy body dementia, head trauma, inflammation of the brain or stroke fall into the same classification.

Other conditions such as lateral sclerosis, dystonic tremor, essential tremor, vascular Parkinsonism, drug-induced Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s Disease can also be misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism is not, however the same as Parkinson’s disease.

What is Parkinsonism?

Parkinson’s Disease is a form of Parkinsonism, which is medically a general term used to define a set of symptoms commonly associated, but not necessarily as a result of the same cause.

To make a distinctive diagnosis, a doctor will need to rule out possible causes such as brain tumours, thyroid disorders, adverse reactions to medications and excess fluid on the brain which could cause a similar set of symptoms. To date, Parkinson’s disease does not have a known cause.

Does Parkinson’s disease affect men and women differently?

It is known that more men are prone to Parkinson’s disease than women, almost twice as much. It has also been determined that there are physiological differences in how Parkinson’s disease affects men and women.

  • Major symptoms: Onset of Parkinson’s disease appears to develop approximately two years later in women than it does men. Women typically notice tremor as the dominant major symptom, whereas men usually notice symptoms of bradykinesia (slow movement and rigidity). When it comes to cognitive function, mental faculties and muscle control, men appear to understand spatial orientation better than women (depending on the side of the brain that is most deficient in dopamine). Women typically have less trouble with verbal fluency than do men (also dependant on the side of the brain affected). Studies have shown that a higher percentage of men have difficulty interpreting fearful facial expressions. Both men and women have difficulties with interpreting surprise and anger. Women appear to feel more distress with being unable to correctly interpret facial expression.
  • Sleep disturbances: More men than women tend to develop rapid eye movement behaviour disorder.
  • Treatment: It has been noted that women don’t generally progress to the point of needing surgical treatment as often as men do, but when symptoms cannot be otherwise managed, they are typically more severe. Surgical results may not be as effective in women as men. Women are also prescribed higher doses of medication than men which increases risk of adverse side-effects (this is often influenced by lower body weight in women).
  • Living with Parkinson’s disease: It has been noted that more women suffer from depression as a result of their condition than men do, and as a result are often put on antidepressant medication. Men typically appear to struggle more with behavioural problems, such as aggression which can lead to abusive or inappropriate actions and outbursts.

Is it known why there are distinctive differences between the sexes when it comes to Parkinson’s disease?

Research has indicated that oestrogen exposure influences the way a women experiences Parkinson’s symptoms, possibly protecting the fairer sex from disease progression to some degree.

Oestrogen may serve as a neuroprotectant of dopamine levels in the brain. Delayed menopause (influenced by hormones) could potentially be one reason why onset of Parkinson’s disease symptoms occurs later in women than it does men. It is not yet fully understood as to why this may influence the condition.

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