What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s is a disease, which is mostly associated with shaking hands (tremors) and slow movements, and it mostly occurs among people above 50 years of age. Today, the symptoms can be relieved with medication. In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 500 are affected by Parkinson’s disease. The disease is slowly developed over several years as the symptoms begin small and later become more and more debilitating. The development of the disease is caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain that produces ‘dopamine’. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is important for learning, control of movements and memory.
What are the symptoms?
Parkinson’s is characterised by a lack of sufficient amounts of dopamine in the brain, and this can lead to the following symptoms:
Shaking – tremors
Stiffness in the muscles – mostly hands and arms
Slowness of movement – called ‘hypokinesia’
Reduced facial expression
Short step length
Loss of balance with a tendency to fall
What are the causes?
The reason why the dopamine-producing nerve cells are weakened or die, thus developing Parkinson’s, is still unclear. It is believed that genes are involved, and that virus infections in the brain as well as toxins and free radicals within the brain may have something to do with it. A certain type of medicine used against psychotic conditions (neuroleptics) are capable of causing Parkinson’s-like symptoms but cannot trigger the disease itself. The diagnosis is based on the characteristic symptoms along with a neurological examination by the physician.
What are the treatments?
Following the examination by the physician, the stage of the disease is assessed as well as the necessary treatment. The treatment is meant to slow down the process and relieve the symptoms as no curative treatment is yet available. As part of the treatment, physiotherapy is a regular component and can be supplemented with medicine, when the symptoms become too debilitating for the patient’s everyday life. The medicine available works by increasing the amounts of dopamine, which there is a shortage of in Parkinson’s patients. At particularly advanced stages of Parkinson’s, a surgical procedure involving implantation of electrodes in the brain can be used to relieve the symptoms.
Each disease course is different, and therefore the effects vary in each patient. Most are able to live a normal life, whereas others experience a significant loss of functions. Why there are varying cases, and why some develop Parkinson’s is still unclear. The only thing that is known for sure is that exercise and following the recommendations from the physician is the best way of relieving symptoms.