Parkinson’s is a progressive disease of the central nervous system, and it is caused by a decrease of cells in the area of the brain that produces dopamine. People are usually diagnosed with Parkinson’s in their early 60s, but if you are diagnosed before reaching 50, you are said to have early onset Parkinson’s. Researchers found that about 2 percent of the approximately 1 million Americans with Parkinson’s are under age 40. This percentage is most likely higher because the disease is often underdiagnosed in younger people.
Symptoms of early onset Parkinson’s disease
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are usually the same regardless of age, however they often vary from person to person. Recent research suggests that the most common nonmotor symptoms often happen first in younger patients and include:
- Loss of smell
- REM behavior disorder
- Mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety
- Orthostatic hypotension, or low blood pressure when standing up
Then, as people age, the most common symptoms include:
- Resting tremor, or constant shaking movement even though your muscles are relaxed
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
- Rigid muscles
- Stooped posture
- Balance problems
Causes of Early Onset Parkinson’s
It is unclear to what exactly causes Parkinson at any age, but many researchers believe that it’s mainly due to genetic factors, environmental factors, or a combination of both. There are specific genes that are associated to early onset Parkinson’s. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, studies show that 65 percent of people with Parkinson’s who experience onset before age 20 may do so because of a genetic mutation. They also suggest that this mutation affects 32 percent of people who experience onset between age 20 and 30. Environmental causes often include exposure to chemical toxins such as certain insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs believes that a big cause of Parkinson’s is due to exposure to a synthetic chemical herbicide called Agent Orange.
Risk Factors of Parkinson’s Disease
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You may have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s if you:
- Are a man
- Live in an area where certain organic or industrial pollutants exist
- Have a job that exposes you to toxic chemicals such as manganese or lead
- Have had a traumatic head injury
- Have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides
- Have a job that exposes you to chemical solvents or polychlorinated biphenyls
Diagnosing and Treatment Options for Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease
Doctors have yet to create a single test that detects Parkinson’s. The condition is usually diagnosed by a neurologist based on a review of your symptoms and a physical exam, however, this could be difficult and take a good amount of time. One suggestion that may work would be to get a DaTscan to visualize your brain’s dopamine system may help confirm diagnosis.
The treatment for Parkinson’s cannot eliminate the disease all together, but it can definitely slow its progression. The most common medication treatment options may include the following.
Levodopa is a chemical that’s converted to dopamine in the brain. People with early onset Parkinson’s may experience more negative side effects, such as involuntary movements.
Dopamine antagonists can mimic natural dopamine in the brain. People who don’t want to take levodopa may opt to use this therapy instead.
MAO-B inhibitors can help reduce the breakdown of dopamine in the brain.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibitors can help extend Levodopa’s effects on the brain.
Tips for Preventing Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease:
Drink caffeine: A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that caffeine can help restore early motor and nonmotor symptoms tied to Parkinson’s.
Take anti-inflammatory drugs: A meta-analysis published by the American Academy of Neurology determined that anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs may help prevent Parkinson’s.
Watch your vitamin D levels: Many people with Parkinson’s don’t get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D supplementation may help reduce your risk.
Stay active: Exercise improves muscle stiffness, mobility, and depression in Parkinson patients. It may also help reduce the risk of getting the disease.
Early onset Parkinson’s is a serious chromic disease that require medications and lifestyle changes in order to relieve symptoms. These changes may also slow the diseases progression altogether. Doctors are continuing to do research on Parkinson’s disease in hope that they will create more effective medications, and ultimately find a cure.
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