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Parkinson's Disease


September 2012

  

Parkinson's DiseaseMost of us have heard of Parkinson’s disease but it becomes more scary when you realise that every hour, someone in the UK is told they have Parkinson’s.

In fact, around one in 500 people are affected by the disease and currently in the UK alone nearly 130,000 are suffering from Parkinson’s.

Generally it affects older people, with the symptoms starting to show at 60 years or more, but younger people do also develop the disease, and it is more likely to affect men than women. Interestingly, it is a lot more common in white ethnic groups than in black and Asian people.

In recent years research has uncovered many aspects associated with Parkinson’s. The disease occurs after a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. These cells help to produce dopamine, a chemical which is vital to help regulate movement in the body. With a loss of these cells, the levels of dopamine also reduce and it is the reduction of this chemical that causes many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. The loss of cells is a slow progress, and it is usually only when 80% of the nerve cells in the substantia nigra have been lost that the symptoms will begin to show themselves.

As yet there is no definite knowledge on the causes of the loss of these nerve cells although research is underway. Many experts believe the problem could be associated with a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Only rarely does Parkinson’s disease run in families, but nevertheless there could be genetic mutations that increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Some researchers believe that exposure to harmful chemicals such as pesticides, toxins from industrial plants and even air pollution related to road traffic could play a role in the development of the disease.

Once the disease has a hold, the symptoms that generally appear include involuntary shaking in parts of the body; muscle stiffness and slow physical movements. The shaking usually affects the hands as well as other parts and this can make everyday life very difficult as it affects every aspect from eating and getting dressed to using a phone or a computer.

There are also a range of additional symptoms that can occur including depression, daytime drowsiness and even difficulty in swallowing. Memory problems can also be a factor.

At the moment there is no cure for Parkinson’s but medication has improved greatly in recent years. The drug Levodopa has proved very effective in helping to treat the symptoms but at the moment its effectiveness reduces after several years’ usage and then alternative medications are usually indicated. Physiotherapy and speech and language therapy are sometimes included in treatment programmes.

Parkinson’s disease is progressive but not fatal and life expectancy can be normal. However, it is a very difficult condition to live with and can have severe impact on most aspects of life including friends and relations.

There are numerous bodies now to help sufferers and families. www.parkinsons.org.uk is a site with a wealth of information and publications that can be downloaded. The Michael Stern Parkinson’s Research Foundation (www.parkinsoninfo.org) is a good American site to show the research currently being undertaken. www.wearingoff.co.uk is another American based site that is geared to helping friends and relatives of sufferers. www.epda.eu.com is a European site giving a major overview of many aspects of the disease.


 

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