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What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Symptom's and Causes

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What is Parkinson's Disease?

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Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive, degenerative disorder of the central nervous system affecting more than 1.5 million people in the United States or approximately 1 in 100 people over age 60. Clinically, the disease is characterized by a decrease in spontaneous movements, difficulty in walking, postural instability, rigidity, and tremor, as well as many other non-movement related symptoms.

Parkinson's disease results from degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra, resulting in decreased availability of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Aging is the greatest risk factor for Parkinson's, and the average age at diagnosis is 60. Still, some people get PD at 40 or younger. Young adults rarely experience Parkinson's disease. It ordinarily begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older.

People who are diagnosed before age 50 are said to have early onset Parkinson's. About 4 percent of the approximately 1 million Americans with Parkinson's are diagnosed before age 50. That number may be higher because the disease is often underdiagnosed in younger people.

There's currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, but treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms and maintain your quality of life. These treatments include: supportive therapies, such as physiotherapy and medication.


Parkinson's Signs and Symptoms

Tremor – usually a resting tremor, often in the hands, arms, legs, torso or lips/face. The tremor is relatively slow, about 4-6 cycles per second and often show a “pill-rolling” movement in the hands and fingers.

Rigidity – muscular stiffness and tightness, often displaying a “start and stop” jerky motion called “cogwheel rigidity” when a limb is manually moved.

 Akinesia or bradykinesia – lack of movement or extreme slowness in movement.

 Postural instability – limping, shuffling gait or balance problems, often resulting in falls. Lack of facial expression is also a common characteristic resulting from the four cardinal symptoms.

These symptoms can have a major impact on people with PD who have cognitive impairment, ranging from mild memory difficulties to dementia and mood disorders – such as depression and anxiety, and sleep difficulties, loss of sense of smell, constipation, speech and swallowing problems, drooling and low blood pressure when standing. Each case tends to be different.

Parkinson's Causes

Parkinson's disease is caused by the progressive impairment or deterioration of neurons (nerve cells) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. When functioning normally, these neurons produce a vital brain chemical known as dopamine.

Research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors but some of the research is still unknown. Scientists currently believe that, in the majority of the cases, genetic and environmental factors interact to cause PD. Research is ongoing aggressively every day to determine the true cause. Hopefully, like other diseases, we will find through genetic testing and other research sources to find a “link” and help prevent the aggressiveness of this disease.

The English doctor James Parkinson first described Parkinson's disease in 1817, and building from his initial insights, we now know Parkinson's as a “disorder of the central nervous system resulting from degradation and cell death of substantia nigra cells. These cells produce dopamine, a chemical called a Neurotransmitter responsible for carrying nerve signals within the brain for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to function abnormally, impairing body movement.

Parkinson's is classified as a movement disorder, other diseases in this class include essential tremor, dystonia, torticollis and Tourette's syndrome.

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