What is Parkinson's disease?

With Parkinson’s Week Awareness coming up soon - 20-26 April 2015

It appears to be a good idea to sum up what we know so far on the disease. So I figured our blog’s first article would be about the disease itself. By the end of the following I hope you will have a better understanding of the disease.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the loss of nerve cells creating chemical dopamine. Dopamine is used to send signals to the part of the brain that controls movements. Basically it affects the way the brain co-ordinates the movement of the body. Parkinson’s is progressive which means it worsens over time. But even though there is no cure yet, there are treatments to help coping with the symptoms.

According to Parkinson’s UK one person in every 500 suffers from the disease. It represents 127,000 people in the UK. The disease usually develops in people over 50 but younger people can get it too. It affects both men and women but is slightly more common in men.

What are the symptoms?

Parkinson’s is different from one person to another. But some symptoms are common to every case:

  • Tremor, which refers to shaking in a hand, arm or leg on one side of the body.
  • Slowness of movements which may cause walking and balance issues.
  • Stiffness of the muscles (rigidity) may refer to a reduced arm swing. It may affect the arms, legs, face or neck or other parts of the body.

It is important to note that it is by ‘combining’ those symptoms that one may be diagnosed with Parkinson’s by a doctor.

As the disease progresses others symptoms may appear such as anxiety, depression, dementia, memory problems. It is also verified that people suffering from Parkinson’s disease have an increased risk of developing melanoma skin cancer, for reasons that are still unknown.

How is it treated?

As we mentioned before, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But there are treatments that help patients control the symptoms and live more comfortably:

  • Medications such as Levodopa (also called L-dopa) and dopamine agonists to regulate the level of dopamine in the brain.
  • Surgery such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), only considered when medicine fails or causes severe side effects.
  • Physical therapy to help improve the patient’s movements in his/her daily life.
  • Occupational therapy to help learn new ways to do things in order to stay independent longer.

Next we will see how Parkinson’s disease affects everyday life and go through some common tips for patients. 

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