04/01/2019 06:00 GMT

Parkinson's Disease Symptoms And Treatment Explained

Comedian Billy Connolly was diagnosed in 2013.

Around one in every 350 adults in the UK will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the progressive brain condition that restricts body movement. 

Although it’s most common in people over the age of 50, around one in 20 people with the condition first experience symptoms when they’re under 40, according to the NHS.

The speed of the illness’s progression can vary from person to person and sadly, there is no cure. However, spotting the signs early can empower people to access treatment that will reduce symptoms for as long as possible. 

Comedian Sir Billy Connolly, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease? 

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive illness characterised by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine helps to regulate movement in the body. 

The majority of people diagnosed have what’s called ‘idiopathic Parkinson’s’, meaning there’s no known cause. Research is being carried out on whether there are any genes associated with the disease which may make it hereditary. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease? 

The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremors (involuntary shaking), stiffness and slowness of movement, says the charity Parkinson’s UK.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Bladder and bowel problems

  • Eye problems

  • Falls and dizziness

  • Pain

  • Restless legs syndrome

  • Skin, scalp and sweating problems

  • Sleep problems

  • Speech and communication problems

  • Swallowing problems

  • Anxiety

  • Dementia

  • Depression

  • Hallucinations and delusions

  • Memory problems

Sadly, previous research from the charity found four in 10 people with Parkinson’s have felt the need to hide or lie about their symptoms, with many saying they didn’t want friends or family to feel awkward around them.

How Is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed? 

There is no definitive test for Parkinson’s disease, but if you believe you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms, the first step is to visit your GP. He or she will ask a series of questions and ask you to perform some simple physical and mental tasks to help provide a diagnosis. If your GP suspects you have Parkinson’s disease, you will usually be referred to a specialist neurologist. 

Steve Ford, chief executive at Parkinson’s UK, previously told HuffPost UK that diagnosis can be a “positive” experience for people.

“Often when people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, they’ll say: ‘Now I realise I’ve probably had it for several years’,” he said. “They might have been living with a tremor in their fingers or a stiffness which is why diagnosis can be a positive and they can start treatment.”

What Treatment Is Available For Parkinson’s Disease?  

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but medication is available to reduce symptoms and prolong a good quality of life. Patients may also benefit from physiotherapy to help with mobility. 

Mum-of-two Michelle Harvey, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s at the age of 43, takes up to eight tablets and uses one transdermal skin patch each day. “When I’m on my medication I have about a two-hour window when I can hide my symptoms and nobody would have a clue that I have Parkinson’s unless you are familiar with the condition,” she blogged on HuffPost UK

For more information on living with Parkinson’s disease or supporting a loved one, Parkinson’s UK runs a helpline on 0808 800 0303.