What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that causes a progressive loss of nerve cell function in the part of the brain that controls muscle movement.
In Parkinson’s, neurons that make a chemical called dopamine die or do not work properly.
Dopamine normally sends signals that help coordinate your movements.
No one knows what damages these cells.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Primary Motor Symptoms:

  • Resting Tremor
  • Bradykinesia (Slow Movement)
  • Rigidity
  • Postural Instability (Impaired Balance and Coordination)

Secondary Motor Symptoms

  • Stooped posture, a tendency to lean forward
  • Dystonia
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired fine motor dexterity and motor coordination
  • Impaired gross motor coordination
  • Poverty of movement (decreased arm swing)
  • Akathisia
  • Speech problems, such as softness of voice or slurred speech caused by lack of muscle control.
  • Loss of facial expression, or “masking”
  • Micrographia (small, cramped handwriting)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Drooling

Nonmotor Symptoms

  • Pain
  • Dementia or confusion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Constipation
  • Skin problems
  • Depression
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Memory difficulties and slowed thinking
  • Urinary problems
  • Fatigue and aching
  • Loss of energy
  • Compulsive behavior

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

A doctor may diagnose a person with Parkinson’s disease based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history.
No blood tests or x-rays can show whether a person has Parkinson’s disease.
However, some kinds of x-rays can help your doctor make sure nothing else is causing your symptoms.
If symptoms go away or get better when the person takes a medicine called levodopa, it’s fairly certain that he or she has Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Parkinson’s disease. They do know some medicines can cause or worsen symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, symptoms often disappear when the patient stops taking the medicines.

Experts have identified aging as an important factor that contributes to Parkinson’s in some individuals.

Most Parkinson’s disease cases are sporadic — meaning that genetics and family history have not played a clear role in the onset and development of the disease.

Scientists suspect that for most people, the cause is probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors. They believe these factors may vary from person to person.
Genetic Factors
Large epidemiological studies (studies that deal with incidence, distribution and control of disease in a population), demonstrate that people with an affected first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, have a two-to-three fold increased risk of developing Parkinson’s, as compared to the general population.

Scientists have identified 13 genes that are associated with Parkinson’s and can cause the disease in a small number of families.

The genes identified to date include: PARK1, DJ-1 (PARK7), Pink1 (Park6), dardarin (DRDN), Tau, lrrk2, parkin, uchl-1, park3, park9, park10, park11.
Environmental Factors
To date, epidemiological research has identified

  • rural living
  • well water
  • herbicide use
  • exposure to pesticides
  • as factors that may be linked to Parkinson’s.

Additionally, a synthetic narcotic agent called MPTP (1-methyl 4-phenyl 1, 2, 3, 6-tetrahydropyridine) can cause immediate and permanent Parkinsonism if injected.

Can Medicines treat Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s usually begins around age 60, but it can start earlier. It is more common in men than in women. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. A variety of medicines can sometimes help symptoms dramatically. Your doctor can recommend the best treatment for you.

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