Parkinson’s Disease Causes, Signs and Symptoms

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown. However, there is a vast amount of research directed at getting answers to its origin, treatment and prevention.  

Parkinson’s has been linked to declining levels of dopamine, an important brain chemical. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It plays a role in controlling movement and coordination. Parkinson’s also causes the nerve endings to die on another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine controls automatic functions of the body, which contributes to Parkinson’s symptoms such as fatigue, constipation and blood pressure changes (light-headedness).

Parkinson’s Risk Factors

No one thing causes a person to get Parkinson’s disease. However, some people may be at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s given their lifestyle, age and genetics. 

  • Genetics: Less than 10 percent of Parkinson’s cases can be linked to genetics. The most common genetic trigger is a mutation in the LRRK2 gene, more common in people of North African or Jewish descent. 
  • Environment: Extensive exposure to certain toxins like pesticides, solvents, chemicals or heavy metals can increase your risk of Parkinson’s. 
  • Head injury: Repeated head injuries may contribute to an increased risk.
  • Age: Parkinson’s is most often diagnosed in people older than 50, although you can be diagnosed at any age.
  • Gender: Men have a higher risk than women. 
  • Race: Caucasians generally are more often affected than African Americans or Asians.

Parkinson’s Prevention

Although you may not be able to prevent Parkinson's disease, there are things you can do that may reduce your risk:

  • Take turmeric: A spice containing the antioxidant curcumin, turmeric may help prevent clumping of a protein linked to Parkinson's disease.
  • Eat flavonoids: Flavonoids are antioxidants found in berries, apples, red grapes, some vegetables and teas that may lower your risk of Parkinson’s.
  • Avoid reheated cooking oils: Toxic chemicals caused by reheating cooking oil have been connected to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's (link to page} and other diseases.
  • Avoid toxins: Wear protective gear or avoid using products like pesticides or solvents.

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Early diagnosis can greatly increase the effectiveness of Parkinson’s treatment. However, Parkinson’s symptoms are easy to dismiss as normal signs of aging or other conditions such as stroke or head trauma. For these reasons, people may ignore symptoms or doctors may have a harder time with diagnosis.

Early signs of Parkinson’s disease may include: 

  • Tremor or shaking in hands
  • Reduced coordination and balance (dropping items or falling)
  • Leaning forward slightly
  • Shuffling gait 
  • Fixed facial expression
  • Tremor in voice 
  • Softer voice
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Smaller, cramped handwriting
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with urination
  • Constipation
  • Skin problems
  • Loss of sense of smell 
  • Mood changes

You don’t have to experience all of these symptoms for a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. You may only notice a symptom or two in the early stages of the disease. If you think your symptoms may be Parkinson’s, make an appointment with a Banner Health neurologist. Early diagnosis can play a major role in treatment effectiveness and outcomes.

Advanced symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Difficulty standing or walking unassisted
  • A tendency to fall, freeze or stumble
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Sleep disorders
  • Tremors
  • Rigidity
  • Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
  • Clumsiness
  • Dystonia (involuntary, repetitive muscle movements)
  • Voice changes (softer, monotone, rapid speech, stuttering)
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive changes (problems with thinking, finding words, judgment)
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach issues
  • Lightheadedness
  • Urinary issues
  • Sweating
  • Personality changes 
  • Dry eyes from reduced blinking

In more advanced stages of Parkinson’s, patients require assistance with daily living activities. 

Parkinson’s Symptoms in Men vs. Women

In general, more men than women are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Often, symptoms are similar; however, there are some differences in how men and women are affected. For example, the first symptom most women report is tremor, while in men, it’s slow or rigid movement (bradykensia). Additionally, men may retain better spatial orientation, and women more verbal fluency as the disease progresses.

Living with Parkinson’s disease is not easy and men and women often have different issues. Women tend to experience depression more while men have behavioral problems and aggression, such as wandering and inappropriate behavior. 

Types of Parkinson’s Disease

“Parkinsonism” is a term for conditions that mimic Parkinson’s symptoms such as tremors, stiffness/rigidity, slowness of movement and imbalance/postural instability. Parkinsonism conditions include:

  • Corticobasal syndrome (CBS): The least common atypical Parkinsonism, symptoms typically affect one side of the body with abnormal posturing, jerky movements and motor task difficulty.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB): A progressive disorder causing a protein called alpha-synuclein to build up in the brain.
  • Drug-induced Parkinsonism: Medications that affect dopamine levels, like antipsychotics or antidepressants, can cause side effects like Parkinson’s.
  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA): Neurodegenerative disorders that cause systems in the body (heartbeat, urination, digestion, etc.) to deteriorate.
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): The most common degenerative atypical Parkinsonism in which proteins build up in the brain. Symptoms tend to progress rapidly.
  • Vascular Parkinsonism (VP): Multiple, small strokes may cause Parkinsonism.

If you experience Parkinson’s-like symptoms, talk to your doctor. Banner Health’s neurologists and movement disorder specialists are highly skilled in accurately diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s and Parkinsonism conditions.