What causes Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and debilitating disorder caused by a loss of nerve cells in a particular region of the brain called the substantia nigra. These nerve cells produce a crucial chemical called dopamine, which helps control and coordinate body movements. 

When the nerve cells in this part of the brain become damaged or die, the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced. This leads to symptoms such as slowed movement and tremors or shaking in the hands, arms, legs or jaw.

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, researchers believe it is likely a combination of age, genetics, and environmental factors that contribute to the degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells. 

At Prestige Nursing & Care, we have supported individuals living with Parkinson’s to enjoy an improved quality of life in their own homes and communities for over 75 years. Here we take a closer look at the causes of Parkinson’s disease, exploring the various biological, genetic, and environmental factors that may be involved.

What Causes the Loss of Nerve Cells? 

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, researchers have identified several potential factors that could contribute to the loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra. 

One key area of investigation is genetics. Studies have shown that certain genetic mutations may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that some people may be predisposed to the condition due to their genes. However, it’s important to note that not everyone with these genetic mutations will develop Parkinson’s disease. This indicates that other factors are also likely at play.

Environmental factors may also play a role in the loss of nerve cells associated with Parkinson’s disease. Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides and herbicides, has been linked to an increased risk of developing the condition. Other potential environmental factors that may contribute to Parkinson’s disease include head injuries and viral infections.

While much is still unknown about the causes of Parkinson’s disease, ongoing research is shedding new light on this complex condition. By better understanding the factors that contribute to the loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra, researchers may be able to develop more effective treatments and preventative measures.

Is Parkinson’s genetic?

While Parkinson’s disease is not generally considered a hereditary condition, several genetic risk factors have been identified. These genetic factors may increase a person’s susceptibility to the condition, although it is not fully understood how they contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of people with Parkinson’s disease do not have a family history of the disorder. Only about 10 – 15% of individuals with Parkinson’s have a relative with the condition, indicating that other factors beyond genetics are likely involved.

That being said, several genes have been identified as potential risk factors for Parkinson’s disease. These include SNCA, LRRK2, and Parkin, among others. However, the impact of these genetic risk factors can vary widely from person to person, and not all individuals with these genetic mutations will develop Parkinson’s disease.

While the role of genetics in Parkinson’s disease is still being studied, it’s clear that many other factors beyond genetics also contribute to the development of this condition. Environmental factors, lifestyle factors, and other genetic interactions may all play a role in the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

Environmental Causes of Parkinson’s

In addition to genetic factors, environmental exposures have also been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers are actively studying a wide range of environmental factors that may contribute to the onset of this condition.

One potential environmental factor that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease is exposure to toxins. Certain chemicals and pollutants have been shown to cause dopamine-producing neurons to die, potentially leading to the development of Parkinson’s disease. However, the exact mechanisms underlying this process are not fully understood.

Another environmental factor that has been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease is traumatic brain injury. Studies have shown that individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury may be at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease years later. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between head injuries and the development of Parkinson’s disease.

There are also differences in the geographic distribution of Parkinson’s disease, which may be related to environmental factors. Some areas have higher rates of Parkinson’s disease than others, suggesting that environmental exposures may play a role in the development of this condition.

Other Causes of Parkinson’s

While the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra is the primary cause of Parkinson’s disease, other conditions can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. Some of these conditions include:

  • Medication-induced Parkinsonism: Certain medications, such as antipsychotic drugs, can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. This is known as drug-induced Parkinsonism. Symptoms usually improve once the medication is stopped.
  • Other progressive brain conditions: Several other progressive brain conditions can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. These conditions include progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple system atrophy, and corticobasal degeneration. While these conditions share some similarities with Parkinson’s disease, they also have unique features that help differentiate them from Parkinson’s disease.
  • Cerebrovascular disease: A series of small strokes can cause damage to several parts of the brain, leading to symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. This is known as vascular Parkinsonism. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, which typically progresses slowly over time, symptoms of vascular Parkinsonism may appear suddenly or progress rapidly.

Can you Prevent Parkinson’s? 

While it’s not possible to completely prevent Parkinson’s disease, several potential protective factors could lower the risk of developing the condition:

  • Caffeine consumption may lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
  • Men with uric acid levels in the high end of the normal range have a lower incidence of Parkinson’s, though a similar effect was not observed in women.
  • Regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen has been shown to lower the risk of Parkinson’s.
  • Cigarette smoking has been associated with a decreased risk of Parkinson’s, but it is not advocated due to the harmful effects of smoking.
  • Some studies have suggested that the use of statins, drugs used to lower cholesterol levels, is associated with reduced Parkinson’s risk.
  • Higher vitamin D levels have been linked to a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s, but more studies are needed to confirm this.
  • Increasing physical activity early in life has been associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s later in life.

What to Do if You Think You May Have Parkinson’s Disease

If you are experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it is important to consult with your GP. There is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, and your doctor will base a diagnosis on your medical history, symptoms, and physical examination. If your GP suspects you have Parkinson’s, they may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.

It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect you have Parkinson’s disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

If you or a loved one is living with Parkinson’s disease and needs care and support, contact our friendly team today. For over 75 years, Prestige Nursing & Care has been trusted by families up and down the country to provide care for all of life, evolving the level and type of care we provide to meet needs as they change.

We offer a range of Parkinson’s care services designed to improve quality of life and overall well-being, including assistance with daily activities, medication management and emotional support. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one live comfortably and confidently with Parkinson’s disease.

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