What Causes Parkinson's Disease?

What Causes Parkinson's Disease?
Introduction to Parkinson's Disease

Introduction to Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain, resulting in impaired movement and tremors. It is estimated that over 10 million people worldwide are living with this condition. Symptoms typically begin slowly, gradually worsening over time and are usually focused around problems with movement such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

Many scientists believe that Parkinson's disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although there is no cure, there are several treatments and therapies available to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Parkinson's.

Known Causes of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement, causing tremors, muscle stiffness and difficulty walking. It is currently still unknown what exactly causes Parkinson’s Disease, however there are several known causes and risk factors that can increase the chances of developing it.


Studies suggest that genetic mutations play an important role in the development of Parkinson's Disease. About 10-15% of all cases of Parkinson’s Disease are caused by a person's genetic makeup. If someone has a close family member who has or had Parkinson's Disease, they may be at higher risk of developing the disease.

Environmental Factors

Research also suggests that environmental factors such as exposure to certain toxins and pollutants may increase the risk of developing Parkinson's Disease. For example, long-term exposure to heavy metals like lead or pesticide residue may increase the risk of developing Parkinson's Disease.

Brain Chemistry

It is believed that imbalances in certain brain chemicals may cause Parkinson's Disease. Studies have found that people with Parkinson’s Disease have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays an important role in controlling movement. Additionally, some studies have suggested that increases in glutamate, another neurotransmitter, may also be linked to Parkinson's Disease.


Recent research has suggested that autoimmune disorders may be linked to Parkinson’s Disease. Autoimmune disorders are conditions wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. A study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that people with autoimmune disorders were more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease later in life.


Parkinson’s disease is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Some of the genes that are linked to Parkinson’s have been identified, though it is not always clear how these gene changes might cause PD. Scientists are still researching the exact relationship between genetics and Parkinson's disease.

Genetic mutations in these genes can lead to an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s; however, most people with these mutated genes do not necessarily develop the condition. Even if an individual carries the genetic mutation, there are often no symptoms of Parkinson’s until later in life. Scientists believe that other environmental events or other factors must interact with the genetic mutations before the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

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    Environmental Factors

    When it comes to the cause of Parkinson’s Disease, there is a great deal of debate and research. One factor that has been identified is environmental factors. These can include exposure to toxins, such as carbon monoxide, herbicides, and other chemicals.

    Other environmental factors that can contribute to Parkinson’s Disease include head trauma, zinc deficiency, and viral infections. In recent years, research suggests that people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury may be at greater risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease than those who have not suffered from such an injury.

    Moreover, researchers have found that to a lesser extent, certain viral infections, such as the common cold and flu, may increase the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s Disease later in life. Finally, zinc deficiency has also been linked to this condition.

    Although these environmental factors increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease, they do not necessarily guarantee that someone will develop the condition. Knowing the causes of Parkinson’s Disease is important in order to prevent the condition or to diagnose it as soon as possible should it develop.

    Brain Chemistry

    Parkinson's Disease (PD) is also widely believed to be caused by changes in the brain's chemistry, specifically dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter (or chemical messenger) in the brain that helps coordinate movements. When a person has PD their brains don't have enough dopamine, meaning that the messages that signal for movement are not being processed correctly or on time. Because of this, people with PD have difficulty with coordination, tremors, and stiffness in their body.

    Research has not been able to pinpoint why exactly dopamine levels drop, but it is believed to be due to either lower production or increased breakdown of the neurotransmitter. Some doctors have suggested that this could be linked to other disorders such as depression or anxiety that affect the levels of serotonin, another important neurotransmitter.

    There is also a link between PD and low levels of acetylcholine, which is another neurotransmitter. Low levels of acetylcholine can cause slower movement, muscle stiffness, and tremors. It is unknown if this chemical imbalance is caused by PD itself or is something that occurs due to the lack of dopamine.


    Autoimmunity is the process by which your immune system mistakenly recognizes normal body cells as foreign invaders and begins to attack them. This is one of the less common causes of Parkinson's disease and it may be linked to some other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Sjogren's syndrome. The exact cause of autoimmune-related Parkinson's is still unknown, but it is thought to be due to a combination of environmental triggers and genetic factors.

    In Autoimmune-related Parkinson's, the immune system is malfunctioning and attacking the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling movement. This can lead to the classic motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's, such as tremor, rigidity, and impaired balance and coordination.

    Diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease

    Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that can be difficult to diagnose, as there is no single test used. Diagnosis relies on a combination of physical examination, medical history and lab tests.

    Physical Examination

    During a physical exam, your doctor may check your balance, coordination, and reflexes. They will also ask about your medical history, family history, and any symptoms you have been experiencing. Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to look for signs of brain changes that might indicate the presence of Parkinson’s disease.

    Medical History

    Your doctor will ask about your medical history and any medications you are currently taking. They will also ask questions about your family’s health history, including whether anyone else in the family has had Parkinson’s disease. Any past head injuries or exposure to toxins could also be relevant to determining the cause of your condition.

    Lab Tests

    Certain laboratory tests can measure levels of certain substances in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid that may be indicative of Parkinson’s disease. These tests can provide helpful information that your doctor can use to make an accurate diagnosis.

    The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is based on a combination of physical examination, medical history, and lab tests. An early diagnosis is important as it can lead to the most effective treatment and best outcomes for patients. With an accurate diagnosis, patients can take steps to manage their condition and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

    Treatments/Therapies for Parkinson's Disease

    When it comes to managing Parkinson's Disease, medications and therapies can bring significant relief and improve a patient’s quality of life. Here is an overview of the main treatments/therapies available:


    Medication is the most common form of treatment for Parkinson's Disease. It works by replenishing or mimicking dopamine in the brain, as dopamine is depleted in those who suffer from Parkinson's Disease. Common examples of medications used include Levodopa (L-dopa), Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Inhibitors, MAO-B Inhibitors, and Dopamine Agonists.


    In certain cases, surgery may be recommended. The two main types available are pallidotomy and thalamotomy. Pallidotomy involves the surgeon making a small hole in the pallidum, a part of the brain that helps control movement. This is done with the help of a device called a stereotactic frame, which is used to keep the skull in one place during the surgery. Thalamotomy involves the same principle, except that the target is the thalamus, an area of the brain that helps with coordination and movement.

    Occupational Therapy

    Occupational therapy is an important component of managing Parkinson's Disease. Occupational therapists are trained to assess how well a person with Parkinson's is able to carry out everyday activities such as dressing, eating and using the toilet. They then provide advice and strategies to adapt these activities to make them easier and safer.


    Physiotherapy is another important tool for managing Parkinson's Disease. Through a range of techniques and exercises, a physiotherapist can reduce stiffness, improve balance, reduce fatigue, and maintain an active lifestyle. A physiotherapist can also provide advice on posture and how to manage other daily activities.

    By working closely with a medical team consisting of doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, people with Parkinson's Disease can develop an individualised plan to manage their condition and improve their quality of life.


    There are a variety of medications available to treat the symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease. These drugs can help reduce tremor, slow body movements, and improve balance. They can also improve mood, sleep, and quality of life. Common medications used to treat Parkinson's include levodopa, dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, COMT inhibitors, and amantadine.

    Levodopa is the most commonly used drug and is usually prescribed when the disease is first diagnosed. It helps to increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine agonists act directly on the dopamine receptors in the brain and help to mimic the action of dopamine that is lost due to the progression of the disease. MAO-B inhibitors block the enzyme called monoamine oxidase B, which breaks down dopamine in the brain. COMT inhibitors help to block the breakdown of dopamine in the brain.

    Amantadine is an antiviral drug that has been found to reduce some of the movement-related symptoms of Parkinson's such as tremor, slowness of movement, and difficulty in initiating movements. These medications can be effective in controlling symptoms, but they do not cure the disease.


    When medications don’t work, and other treatments are not enough, some people with Parkinson's Disease may benefit from surgery. Surgery is usually a last resort, after other treatments have been tried first. There are different types of surgery that can be used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's, including deep brain stimulation (DBS) andabolominal or thalamic surgery.

    Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

    DBS is a type of surgery which involves implanting electrodes in the brain. These electrodes are then connected to a wire, which is placed under the skin, leading to a battery-operated device called a neurostimulator. This neurostimulator sends electrical signals to the brain and helps to regulate the activity of certain brain cells, helping to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

    Abdominal Surgery and Thalamic Surgery

    Abdominal surgery and thalamic surgery are two different types of surgery that can be used to treat Parkinson’s. In abdominal surgery, a small hole is made in the abdomen and a tube is inserted into the abdomen. This tube is then connected to the brain, allowing for the delivery of medications to help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Thalamic surgery, on the other hand, is a procedure where a section of the thalamus is removed to help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

    It is important to note that surgery is not right for everyone with Parkinson’s. It is best to speak with your doctor to determine if this is a suitable option for you.

    Occupational Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

    Occupational therapy is a rehabilitative therapy used to help people with chronic illnesses, like Parkinson's Disease, live as independently as possible. Occupational therapists can help individuals with Parkinson's Disease to focus on daily activities, such as dressing, eating, walking or writing, that have become more difficult due to the disease. Occupational therapists help by customizing solutions and designing specific interventions to help them maintain their independence.

    Specific interventions may include altering devices, equipment or tasks to make them easier to perform. This could involve adapting objects like a shoehorn or a zipper puller, for example. It could also involve simplifying activities by breaking them down into smaller steps or changing the environment to better serve the patients' needs. Occupational therapists may suggest strategies to help manage fatigue or stiff muscles, including ergonomic positioning, stress relief techniques or warm baths.

    Occupational therapists will also assess the patient’s home environment to ensure it is safe and appropriate for their needs. They may provide advice or resources to assist with modifying the home to better meet the needs of the individual. In some instances, an occupational therapist may provide guidance to family caregivers, to help them better assist their loved one.


    Physiotherapy is a form of treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease that acts to extend movement, reduce pain and improve overall quality of life. Physiotherapists use physical exercises to help people with Parkinson's disease improve their range of motion, build strength and endurance, and maintain or increase their flexibility. Examples of these include balance activities, aerobic exercise, yoga, Tai-Chi, and stretching.

    Physiotherapy can also help with the development of motor skills such as walking, moving from one position to another (transferring), and managing fatigue. The goal of physiotherapy is typically to help individuals build strength and retain their range of motion, mobility, and independence in everyday activities.

    Many people with Parkinson’s disease are encouraged to see a physiotherapist regularly to help manage their condition and work towards long-term goals. A physiotherapist may also help monitor the changes in the individual’s mobility and make adjustments to their exercise program accordingly. Ultimately, physiotherapy can help an individual cope with and manage the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, allowing them to maximize their quality of life.

    Coping and Living with Parkinson's Disease

    Living with Parkinson's Disease can be challenging; however, there are many strategies that can help you manage the symptoms and stay active. These strategies include diet, exercise, stress management, and support groups.


    A healthy diet is essential for people living with Parkinson's Disease. It is important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Eating whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy products can help regulate blood sugar levels and provide essential nutrients. Additionally, it is recommended to limit processed foods, avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, and drink plenty of water.


    Exercise is an important part of managing the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. Exercise helps improve balance, strength, coordination, and mobility. Appropriate exercises can include walking, swimming, stretching, and yoga. In addition to regular exercise, it is important to build up muscle strength by doing resistance training or using weights.

    Stress Management

    It is important to find ways to reduce stress and relax to help manage the physical and emotional symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help reduce tension and anxiety. Other activities such as meditation, mindfulness, and art therapy can help people relax and manage their stress.

    Support Groups

    It can also be helpful to join a support group or find an online community of other people living with Parkinson's Disease. Support groups can provide a safe space for individuals to discuss their experiences and challenges and to offer support and advice.

    Diet and Parkinson's Disease

    Living with Parkinson's Disease (PD) can require changes in lifestyle, including diet. Eating healthy vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins can help keep blood sugar levels stable, reduce inflammation, and promote overall health.

    A healthy diet for PD includes eating foods that are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and vitamins. It is also important to avoid processed and sugary foods.

    Eating healthy can also reduce symptoms of PD, such as fatigue, constipation, weight loss, and slow movement. Eating nutritious meals throughout the day, including snacks, can help manage symptoms.

    In addition, drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help keep the body hydrated and help with digestion. Water can also help with constipation, a common symptom among those living with PD.

    Following a healthy diet can also decrease the risk of secondary illnesses associated with PD, such as high cholesterol and obesity. While it can be difficult to make drastic changes in diet, small changes can have a positive impact on overall health.


    Exercise can be an important part of managing Parkinson’s disease. It helps to reduce stress and stiffness, while increasing strength and balance. It also helps improve circulation, mood, flexibility, and coordination. For people with Parkinson’s, exercise can help them stay independent and active for as long as possible.

    While no specific exercise or workout regime has been clinically proven to improve the condition itself, there are several different types of exercises that can help sufferers manage their symptoms. These include:

    • Tai chi - a slow, flowing form of exercise that focuses on movement and relaxation
    • Yoga - a practice which includes postures to achieve balance and poise
    • Walking - walking is a great form of exercise for people with Parkinson’s, as it can help improve coordination, reduce stiffness, and increase strength.
    • Cycling - cycling can be a great way to relieve pain and stiffness, as well as improve circulation and balance.
    • Swimming - swimming is a low-impact activity that can also help improve flexibility and balance.

    When starting any type of exercise program, it is important to consult with a doctor first. This will ensure that you are performing the exercises safely and correctly. In addition, your doctor may be able to suggest other activities that are suitable for your individual needs.

    Stress Management

    People with Parkinson's disease may experience a great deal of stress, which can further exacerbate symptoms. It can be difficult to cope with the physical and cognitive changes that come with the disease, as well as the fear and anxiety it can cause. Fortunately, there are ways to manage stress and lessen its negative effects.

    It is important to recognize the signs of stress and how it impacts your body and mind. Common signs of stress include feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, tearfulness, frequent headaches or muscular tension, low energy, and digestive problems. If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, take a break and do something that you enjoy.

    Exercise is a great way to manage stress. Taking a walk, doing yoga or any other form of exercise can help to release endorphins in your body, reducing feelings of stress. Additionally, practicing deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help you calm down and find a sense of inner peace.

    Other activities to reduce stress include journaling, drawing, painting, listening to music, spending time in nature, and engaging in meaningful conversations. Meditation can also be a great way to be mindful, stay present, and take a break from worrying about the future. If you find yourself struggling to handle the stress, reach out to family and friends for support.

    Support Groups

    When it comes to living with Parkinson's Disease, support groups can help you to cope and make sure that you have access to the right resources. Support groups offer a place for people to get information, share experiences, and receive emotional support when dealing with Parkinson's Disease. These groups can be sought out either in person, or can be found online.

    Support groups are based upon providing their members with a safe environment to discuss issues related to Parkinson's Disease. Facilitators at these groups often have experience with the disease, allowing them to provide helpful resources and guidance to those in attendance. Members of support groups can talk about whatever they’d like, so conversations can be about medication, therapy, exercise regimens, as well as other topics.

    Support groups can also provide an emotional outlet for those with Parkinson's Disease. It is important for individuals connected to the disease to be able to connect with others who are going through the same thing, taking part in activities or discussions that can resonate with them. Listening to other people’s stories, understanding that your struggles are shared, can be empowering and give strength.

    Attending a support group can help you to gain insight into how to manage the disease better, which can help to improve your quality of life. Finding a good support system can be invaluable for people living with Parkinson’s Disease.

    Living with Parkinson’s Disease can be challenging, but it is possible to manage the symptoms and lead a full and rewarding life. There are a number of treatments available which vary between individuals and the severity of their condition. It is important to remember that there are various types of therapy and treatment available to help manage the condition. Diet, exercise, and stress management play a key role in managing Parkinson’s Disease. Additionally, support groups can provide valuable assistance and comfort. The diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease should always be done under the care of a qualified professional. With the right care, those with Parkinson’s Disease can live active and fulfilling lives.