There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Medications treat only the symptoms and come with some pretty nasty side effects, as I am quickly learning.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I began trying to discover what could have caused me to develop this disease at such a young age. There are many theories on what causes Parkinson’s. The disease itself develops when the dopamine producing cells in the brain begin to die off. But doctors do not know why these cells begin to die. The traditional thought around the subject is that there are environmental triggers that cause the disease. This is because certain professions where workers are exposed to toxic chemicals seem to have higher instances of the disease. However, newer research suggests that mutations of certain genes can either cause Parkinson’s or make a person more likely to develop Parkinson’s. The cause could also be a combination: the genes make you more susceptible, but then something in your environment triggers the actual loss of dopamine producing cells.
Since some families have multiple people with Parkinson’s, researchers have long looked for a hereditary tendency towards Parkinson’s. It has been hard to establish a completely genetic link to Parkinson’s, however, since families also share many environmental factors. No one in my family history has Parkinson’s disease. Both my parents are living - neither has Parkinson’s. Two of my four grandparents are living, neither has Parkinson’s. My deceased grandparents did not have Parkinson’s either. So how did I get it?
A mutation in a gene has been linked to higher rates of Parkinson’s. As part of a research study, I was tested for this gene mutation thought to cause Parkinson’s disease. I do not have this particular gene. But, this is a big area for research in Parkinson’s right now, and scientists are discovering more genes that could be linked to the disease.
I looked at environmental factors. Even thought we don’t know what causes Parkinson’s, one thing is clear. Certain areas of the United States (and the world) have higher rates of Parkinson’s. This is thought to be because of chemicals or pesticides used in those areas. I do not live in a rural farming area and I have never worked in a factory. I grew up in the suburbs and have worked in an office building for most of my adult life.
I have decided I will probably never know what caused my Parkinson’s disease. And even if I discovered how I got it, I can’t change the fact that it’s here.