Every year, there are more than 60,000 cases of Parkinson’s disease diagnosed in the United States alone. Although there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, early detection can help you effectively manage the disease, as well as reduce the chance of suffering severe complications. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn some of the most essential information about the disease, including its warning signs, risk factors, and its potential genetic basis.
PD and Genetics: Is Parkinson’s Hereditary?
For generations, scientists believed that Parkinson’s disease had no genetic basis. However, over the past two decades, researchers have begun to discover a handful of genetic mutations that have proven to be more common among those affected by the disease. But does this mean that Parkinson’s is genetic? The answer is both yes and no.
Today, scientists know that as few as 10% of cases have an underlying genetic cause. The unfortunate truth is that in most cases, the real cause of Parkinson’s remains unknown. While there’s clearly a genetic component in play, genetic factors appear to only increase your risk. Not unlike heart disease and diabetes, while genetic dispositions play an important role, they’re far from the whole story.
Risk Factors for Parkinson’s
Although Parkinson’s can affect anyone, there are a number of factors that increase your chances of being afflicted. Parkinson’s disproportionately affects the elderly, with symptoms usually beginning at age 60 or older. It’s also more common in men than women, as well as those who have had consistent exposure to pesticides and herbicides. While the genetic component of Parkinson’s may only marginally increase your risk, the likelihood of developing the disorder slightly increases with each affected relative.
Early Warning Signs
The most common early symptom of Parkinson’s disease is tremors or shaking in your hands, fingers, legs, or lips. These tremors can often manifest as difficulty buttoning shorts, tying shoes, or having increased difficulty with balance. This is usually accompanied by stiffness and trouble moving, particularly in the shoulders and hips. Patients often report feeling as though their feet feel stuck to the floor, and note that their stiffness does not go away even as they move.
Another common symptom is small handwriting. If you notice your hand writing has suddenly become smaller, especially by writing tiny letters or using more crowded sentences, this may be a symptom of Parkinson’s. Those diagnosed with the disease tend to experience a change in their voice, and may find they speak very softly or hoarsely. Loss of smell, sleep disturbances, chronic constipation, stooped posture, monotone speech, and difficulty chewing are also common among those who suffer from Parkinson’s.
Things to Keep in Mind
There are no definitive tests for Parkinson’s disease. Because Parkinson’s is rare, it’s important to keep in mind that even if you experience many of these symptoms, and even if you have family members with Parkinson’s, it’s no guarantee you have the disease. In most cases, it’s far more likely these symptoms are the result of any number of different, more common conditions. However, if you experience several of these symptoms, talk to your doctor at once. Early detection may help you remain functional for as long as possible.
Are you or a loved one living with Parkinson’s? Was there a genetic history of the disease in your family? What was it that made you seek a formal diagnosis? Please share your stories with others in the comments below.