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What is Parkinson’s Disease?

ABOUT PARKINSON’S DISEASE

It is estimated that 6.3 million people have Parkinson’s disease worldwide, affecting all races and cultures. According to available statistics, 1.2 million people in Europe have the disease.1 If you’re one of them, you probably know this neurological movement disorder is progressive, neurodegenerative, and currently has no cure — treatments are focused on reducing the symptoms of the disease.

Although Parkinson's disease typically develops after the age of 65, about 15% of people with the condition develop young-onset Parkinson's disease before reaching the age of 50.1

As Parkinson's disease progresses, it becomes increasingly disabling, making daily activities like bathing or dressing difficult or impossible. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease involve motor control (the ability to control your muscles and movement).

THE FOUR PRIMARY SYMPTOMS OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE

  • Tremor (involuntary, rhythmic shaking of a limb, head or entire body)
    The most recognised symptom of Parkinson’s disease often starts with an occasional tremor in one finger that eventually spreads to the whole arm. The tremor may affect only one part or side of the body, especially in the early stages of the disease. Not everyone with Parkinson’s disease has tremor.
  • Rigidity (stiffness or inflexibility of the limbs or joints)
    The muscle rigidity experienced with Parkinson's disease often begins in the legs and neck. Rigidity affects most people. The muscles become tense and contracted, and some people may feel pain or stiffness.
  • Bradykinesia or akinesia (slowness of movement or absence of movement)
    Bradykinesia is one of the classic symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Over time, a person with Parkinson's disease may develop a stooped posture and a slow, shuffling walk. They eventually also may lose their ability to start and keep moving. After a number of years, they may experience akinesia, or 'freezing', and not be able to move at all.
  • Postural instability (impaired balance and coordination)
    A person with postural instability may have a stooped position, with head bowed and shoulders drooped. They may develop a forward or backward lean and may have falls that cause injuries. People with a backward lean have a tendency to 'retropulsion', or stepping backwards.

THE CAUSES OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE

Parkinson's disease is caused by the degeneration of a small part of the brain called the substantia nigra. As brain cells in the substantia nigra die, the brain becomes deprived of the chemical dopamine.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, enables brain cells involved in movement control to communicate. Reduced levels of dopamine lead to the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, 80% of dopamine-producing cells are lost even before the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease appear.2

As dopamine continues to be lost, Parkinson's disease often becomes increasingly disabling over time. If you suffer from Parkinson's disease, you may have trouble performing daily activities such as rising from a chair or moving across a room. As the disease progresses, some people need to use a wheelchair or may become bedridden.

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Watch our animation illustrating how Parkinson's disease affects the brain.
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Treatment options for Parkinson's disease

Medication

There are a number of medications used to treat the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These medications can be helpful in the early stages but their effectiveness generally declines over time.

The type of medication your physician may prescribe will depend on your symptoms and needs.

Supportive therapies

In the early stages of your Parkinson’s diagnosis, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes and interventions that may improve some symptoms of the disease, or may help with your daily life. Some supportive therapies commonly recommended are:

·         Physiotherapy

·         Occupational therapy

·         Speech and language therapy

·         Dietary changes

Deep Brain Stimulation

When some patients find medication is not working as well for them anymore, deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery can be an option to help control the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s.

DBS is a form of treatment that sends electrical pulses to specific areas of the brain that control movement. This involves a surgical procedure to implant leads in the brain, connected to a neurostimulator device under the skin of the chest or abdomen.

Read more about DBS surgery.

Parkinson's Medication

Watch our animation showing how Parkinson's medication may work to reduce symptoms of the disease.
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LEARN MORE ABOUT PARKINSON’S

The following organisations provide information and support to people who have Parkinson's disease and their families.

References

1

Basic Information About Parkinson's Disease. Available at: European Parkinson's Disease Association.

2

Parkinson Primer. Available at: www.parkinson.org.