Parkinson's
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Parkinson's

Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition in which patients suffer from involuntary movement. Other movement disorders include Huntington’s disease, essential tremor and restless leg syndrome. Parkinsonism is similar to Parkinson’s, but is basically an umbrella term for many conditions which share the same type of symptoms. In Parkinson’s, nerve cells within the brain become broken-down and are unable to produce the chemical dopamine. This chemical is responsible for sending signals to the brain which allow people to move voluntarily. As more nerve cells break down, the Parkinson’s gradually progresses and the patient’s condition deteriorates.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of Parkinson’s are imbalance, shaking, involuntary movements, stiff muscles, and a gradual slowing down or inability to move. The first symptom noticed is usually trembling or shaking. However, this could indicate a variety of other movement disorders and the patient should not assume they have Parkinson’s if they develop tremors. Late-stage Parkinson’s symptoms may include a fixed facial expression, constipation, difficulty swallowing and dementia.

Causes

Although there is evidence that environmental factors and aging may play a role in the development of Parkinson's, its exact cause is unclear. Some scientists believe there is a genetic factor to the disease although the vast majority of disease occurs in patients without a family history of it. Symptoms are caused by the reduction of dopamine in the brain due to broken-down nerve cells, but it is still unknown what causes the break-down of the cells.

Risk Factors

Approximately 15-25% of patients who develop Parkinson’s have a relative who has also had the disease, and studies indicate that patients who have first-degree relatives with Parkinson's are four to nine times more likely to get it than those who don't. The greatest incidence of genetic risk, however, is when the disease is contracted before the age of 60.

Research suggests that exposure to environmental toxins such as well water, pesticides, manganese and Agent Orange may be linked to Parkinson’s. However, it has not been proven that the disease is directly caused by exposure alone.

Other risk factors include being male and being over 60 years old.

Complications

Parkinson’s itself is not fatal. However, there can be complications which lead to fatality including falls and injury due to imbalance, choking due to difficulty swallowing, and infection due to poor hygiene and bladder problems. Advanced symptoms such as dementia, depression and the inability to move are considered serious complications.

Treatment

There are a variety of drugs on the market which help increase the amount of dopamine in the brain and treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. These include levadopa, anticholinergics and amantadine. There may be side effects with these drugs, but they work quite well to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Deep-brain stimulation has a fairly high success rate in reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s as well. However, this surgical procedure is usually reserved for patients with advanced disease, and comes with risks including brain hemorrhage, stroke and infection.