By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disease of the brain. It affects parts of the brain that are associated with normal movement and balance.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
The classic symptoms of this condition are a tremor or shaking of the hand or other limbs while at rest. Another classic symptom is rigidity and increased tone in the body's muscles. The movements of the body are slowed (this is termed bradykinesia) and the patient often finds difficulty in maintaining balance.
The problems are usually at the beginning of a new activity like getting up and walking. Once they begin the patients usually moves too fast, ending up almost running or out of control.
Early signs of Parkinson’s
Early signs of the condition include:
sleepiness or drowsiness
a decreased sense of smell
Some persons may have a condition called REM behaviour disorder. In this the individuals act upon their dreams by kicking, hitting or talking during dream or REM sleep.
Causes of Parkinson’s disease
This disease is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine. The area affected is called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or a chemical messenger that carries signals between the neurons in the brain. Dopamine enables smooth, coordinated movements.
The symptoms appear only when around 80 per cent of the dopamine producing cells in the brain are destroyed. The earliest symptom is a fine tremor of hands while at rest.
Exactly what causes Parkinson’s disease is unclear. Most experts think that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible.
According to Parkinson's UK there are about 127,000 people in the UK with the disease. This means about one in 500 of the general population or nearly 10,000 people are diagnosed each year.
The disease is commonly diagnosed at the age of 60 but around 1 in 20 patients may be diagnosed earlier (less than 40 years of age). Men are one-and-half times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.
Rates of Parkinson’s disease are significantly lower in black and Asian people. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease
Treating Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease can be controlled initially with several groups of drugs but the disease is a progressive one and has no cure. A medication called levodopa has proved effective in relieving symptoms. After around 3-5 years use the effectiveness of levodopa is reduced. There is a return of symptoms after this duration. At this point additional medication is usually required.
Prognosis or outlook
The condition is not fatal but progressive. At early years most patients with adequate response to medications can lead a normal or near-normal life with normal life expectancy.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Oct 12, 2013