Young Onset of Parkinson's Disease Like Symptoms
Although typically diagnosed around age 60 or later, Parkinson’s like symptoms are not just an older person’s condition. Many people with young onset experience delay in diagnosis given the uncommon age and often different symptoms. When a person younger than age 50 is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease like symptoms, it is considerd Young (early)-onset. Research suggests that genetics may play more of a role in early or young onset than in people who are diagnosed over the age of 50.
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Young-onset Parkinson’s Disease like symptoms are on the rise, we see more and more people in their forties and even thirties or twenties diagnosed with PD like symptoms. While the extent of potential symptoms is the same regardless of when PD is diagnosed, younger people may experience symptoms and overall course of this condition fairly differently. They often have a longer journey to diagnosis as well, seeing multiple providers and undergoing several tests before a correct conclusion is reached. A person with YOPD like symptoms will more likely experience dystonia — an involuntary muscle contraction that leads to an often painful abnormal posture, such as an inward turning of the foot. In some people, dystonia is the first symptom of Parkinson’s and often comes on after exercise. On the other hand, people with YOPD like symptoms are less likely to have significant problems with balance, or considerable impairment of memory or thinking.
Regardless of age both genetic changes and environmental factors likely contribute to different degrees to cause disease. In younger people, especially those who have family members with Parkinson’s Disease, genetics may play a larger role.
Certain genetic mutations including: ATP13A2 (Park9), Alpha-synuclein (Park1), Parkin (Park2), PINK1 (Park6), DJ-1 (Park7) are associated with an increased risk of young-onset PD like symptoms. If you have symptoms that could be linked to YOPD and have a family history of Parkinson’s, you might consider genetic testing to see if you carry one of these mutations.
Genetic testing Recently, the Food and Drug Administration authorized 23andMe, a genetic testing company, to market tests for 10 diseases or conditions directly to individuals. Having – or not having – certain variants is associated with an increased risk of developing one of the 10 diseases or conditions that 23andME tests for, which among others include: Early-onset primary dystonia, a disorder characterized by progressive problems with movement and Parkinson’s disease. While these tests give you information about your genetic risk of developing Parkinson's Disease, they can’t provide information about your overall risk of developing a disease. That is because genetic risk factors alone do not mean you will definitely develop Parkinson’s disease – other factors, like your lifestyle or environment, also play a role.
Just because you have a genetic predisposition to a particular disease doesn’t mean you will develop it. While you can not control your genetics, you can control many of the lifestyle choices and factors that can increase your chances of never developing Parkinson's Disease.
People diagnosed at a younger age may hide their symptoms in order to avoid stigma when their symptoms are misunderstood. Although everyone with Parkinson’s Disease like symptoms probably wonders what the years ahead hold. Concerns of younger people often center on the potential implications of disease on personal, family and professional desires and responsibilities. Young-onset Parkinson’s can impact relationships with significant others and spouses. Addressing symptoms and issues (including sexual health) as they arise, can be helpful. Cooperation and flexibility become critical when managing life with Parkinson’s with your partner.
Should you order a genetic test?
If you’ve been considering a genetic test, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, once you learn information, you can’t “unknow” it.
If you do get results that show you are genetically predisposed to the disease, it’s a good idea to speak with your health provider about what this means for your health and what you should do to minimize your risk of developing the disease. It’s also important to note that, just because you’re predisposed to the disease doesn’t mean you will ever get it. Likewise, even though you might not have tested for any genetic markers for Parkinson’s disease, that doesn’t mean you’re immune from it. That’s why it is important to pay attention to your health regardless of your genetic test results.
Lifestyle Factors That Can Improve Your Odds even if you have an increased genetic risk.
Your overall diet, of course, is one of the best things that can improve your odds of not developing Parkinson’s like symptoms. Gluten and grain free diets rich in fresh organic veggies, fruits, lean meats and limited organic dairy are important for keeping your body healthy. Avoiding processed foods, artificial sweeteners and added sugars are also key to health.
Exercise can be beneficial as well. Exercise helps strengthen your immune system, keep your brain sharp and increases strength and flexibility. All of these are essential in helping your body fight back against disease development or progression.
The practice of yoga or tai chi for diseases that impact mobility, like PD or dystonia may be effective. Tai chi or gentle yoga practice can be effective at helping to maintain strength, mobility and balance. It’s a great way to stay both physically and mentally active as well.