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Is Neuropathy a Symptom of Parkinson’s Disease?

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a woman has her hand examined by a doctor due to neuropathy

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological or brain disorder caused by impaired nerve cells. Its symptoms include shaking, stiffness, and tremors. 

These begin gradually but worsen, where support and care are eventually needed. A custom memory support experience can benefit people with Parkinson’s disease. 

Neuropathy, or sometimes peripheral neuropathy, is damage to the nerves that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. There are higher rates of neuropathy in people with Parkinson’s. 

Let’s look at Parkinson’s and neuropathy more closely to understand the causes and symptoms. 

Parkinson’s Disease

Nerve cells (neurons) in an area of the brain known as the basal ganglia are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Impairment or death of these nerve cells results in low dopamine, atypical brain activity, and problems with movement.

Cause of Parkinson’s Disease

The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, but some factors play a role:

  • Genetic factors: Genetic changes are uncommon and occur in rare cases where many family members are affected by Parkinson’s. 
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to toxins plays a small risk of increasing your chances of Parkinson’s later in life. 

Signs & Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can vary from person to person and can affect both sides of the body at once or one side only. Signs and symptoms related to motor function include:

  • Tremors: This is rhythmic shaking of the hands, arms, legs, or head. Hands can tremble more when at rest and decrease when performing tasks.
  • Slow movement: Bradykinesia is a slower movement that causes shorter steps when walking, dragging or shuffling feet, difficulty getting out of a chair, and completing simple tasks which take more time. 
  • Stiff muscles: Rigid muscles can occur in any body part. They remain contracted for a long time, causing pain and limiting the range of motion. 
  • Impaired balance and posture: Stooped posture and impaired balance can lead to falls. 
  • Movement loss: There is a decrease in the ability to perform automatic or unconscious movements, such as blinking, smiling, and moving arms when walking. 
  • Change in speech: Monotone speech, speaking softly or quickly, slurring, and hesitating before speaking. 
  • Change in writing: Writing gets harder to do and becomes slow, and handwriting is cramped or small. 

Peripheral Neuropathy

The peripheral nervous system is an intricate network connecting the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Damage to these nerves (motor nerves) interrupts communication leading to impaired muscle movement.  

Depending on the type of nerve that’s affected, symptoms can include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Imbalance
  • Numbness
  • Pain, burning, or tingling in the hands and legs
  • Sensitivity in certain areas

Other types of neuropathy include:

  • Neurogenic orthostatic hypotension: This condition is characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure when getting up from a seated or lying down position. It causes dizziness, lightheartedness, and sometimes loss of consciousness.
  • Gastroparesis: The changes in Parkinson’s disease also affect the muscles of the digestive system. It leads to a slow down or delays in emptying of the gut. 
  • Urinary incontinence: From damage to nerves in the bladder.

Peripheral neuropathy is experienced more in patients with Parkinson’s disease and in patients without Parkinson’s. While Parkinson’s is mainly a movement disorder, patients can experience non-movement or non-motor-related symptoms. 

a person holds their arm due to muscle weakness

Causes of Neuropathy in Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease-related neuropathy (PDRN) may include long-term use of Levodopa (medication for Parkinson’s), which can lead to vitamin B-12 and folate deficiency. Genetic susceptibility to underlying genetic disorders can also cause Parkinson’s and neuropathy. 

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease and Neuropathy

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Complications and symptoms of Parkinson’s include cognitive decline, depression, eating and swallowing problems, sleep disorders, and bladder and constipation issues. These are treatable with medications, surgery, and other therapies

Medications to increase dopamine levels in the brain, control non-movement-related symptoms, reduce involuntary movements, tremors, and stiff muscles, and enzyme inhibitors to slow the breakdown of dopamine. 

Doctors may recommend deep brain stimulation for people who do not respond to medications. It involves electrodes that stimulate specific areas in the brain that control movement to help control movement-related symptoms. Other treatments include therapy, exercise, and a healthy diet. 

Support for Parkinson’s Disease

The prevalence of neuropathy is common in patients with Parkinson’s disease and varies. Individually targeted treatment and medical care can improve a patient’s symptoms. 

If you have a loved one with Parkinson’s disease, Fox Trail Senior Living in Montville goes beyond providing basic care and offers personalized care. Schedule a visit with us today to find out more about memory support. 

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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