Is Parkinson’s Disease hereditary?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects mostly the motor system. This means this is a disorder of the brain and nervous system that gets worse with time and affects the movements of the muscles of the individual.

According to the Parkinson’s foundation, almost one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease (or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). It is the second commonest neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease among the elderly. The number of people living with PD is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030. An estimate of 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year, and more than 10 million people worldwide are living with PD. The Incidence of Parkinson’s disease increases with age over 60 years, but an estimated four percent of people with PD are diagnosed before age 50, and men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.

PD results when there is loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain stem called the substantia nigra. These nerve cells are important because they are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and co-ordinate body movements. The destruction or depletion of these nerve cells will lead to reduction in dopamine, which means there will be problems with the control of movement by the brain. The brain of people with PD have also been noticed to contain Lewy bodies, and there may be a possible link to dementia. Subsequently, movements become slow and abnormal. Symptoms of PD usually occur when up to 80% of these nerve cells have been lost over time.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The question arises on what causes these brain cells to die in the first place and result in PD? The answer is that the exact cause is not known. More research is being done on this to exactly understand the cause of the death in nerve cells. However, it has been proposed to be a complex interaction between environmental and genetic factors.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder and most of the symptoms are clustered around but not limited to the movements of an individual.

They are:

  1. Tremor (trembling) in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head, which become worse or exaggerated when the individual wants to voluntarily perform an activity.
  2. Stiffness of the limbs and trunk leading to a difficulty in effectively perform activities of daily living that require fast, nimble movements like buttoning a shirt.
  3. Slowness of movement, which leads to a characteristic walking step of gait describes as a ‘shuffling gait’ as the person cannot effectively lift the feet off the ground as in normal stepping.
  4. Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to frequent falls.

There are also other symptoms which may include difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and chewing, urinary difficulties, constipation, and sleep disruptions,

Depression may also ensure in people with PD.

Is Parkinson’s disease hereditary?

The answer is yes, Parkinson’s Disease can be hereditary, even though not in a predictable and clear-cut manner as other hereditary diseases.  About 15 percent of people with PD have a relative with the disease, and people with a close family member with Parkinson’s have a 2 to 5 percent chance of developing the disease.

Research shows that these family-linked cases are possibly as a result from genetic mutations in a group of genes — LRRK2, PARK2, PARK7, PINK1 or the SNCA genes.  If the LRRK2 or SNCA genes are involved, Parkinson’s is likely inherited from just one parent, while if the PARK2, PARK7 or PINK1 gene is involved, it is inherited from the two parents who may have passed the genes without knowing.

What are the other risk factors for Parkinson’s disease?

Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of the disease include:

Age: like has been mentioned, it is more likely to occur in people above the age of 60 years

Sex: Men are more likely to develop PD than women. The exact reason is not clear, but estrogen is believed to confer a protective effect, while another theory maybe that women are less likely to be exposed to environmental factors that pre-disposes to the disease.

Ethnicity: PD has been noticed more in whites than blacks.

Head trauma: PD has also been noted to be more in people who suffered head, neck, or cervical spine trauma.

Environmental pollution: Environmental toxins like pesticides have also been linked to an increased likelihood for PD.

 Treatment options for Parkinson’s Disease

There is no standard treatment to cure PD. Treatment options is mainly individualized. They include medication and surgical therapy. Other treatments include lifestyle modifications, like getting more rest and exercise. These medications treat the Parkinson’s symptoms, but do not reverse the disease process neither does it stop its progression

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with PD, remember to keep your doctor’s appointments, take your medications, and join the many support groups available for PD today. Also consult your doctor if you are afraid you have PD and have a family history of it.

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