The Basics

We recommend the very positive and empowering attitude of organisations like Parkinson’s Health about dealing with this condition. We’re also confident that the resources we offer in ourParkinson’s Self-help list and Health Information we Trust list support this approach. It’s based on first-hand experience, and they have reason to be encouraging. When they say: “Managing Parkinson’s disease can be complicated, but it’s nothing you can’t handle”, they back it up with practical information and advice. The following derives from sources including their website,Medline Plus and the Parkinson’s UK website among others. As always, the purpose of our overviews is to get you started and direct you to the sources themselves.

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain that controls muscle movement. In Parkinson’s there is a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Neurons that make a chemical called Dopamine die or do not work properly. Dopamine normally sends signals that help coordinate your movements. No one knows what damages these cells. Parkinson’s symptoms happen when levels of dopamine become too low.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include:

  • Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Poor balance and coordination

Fine movement control is affected. In severe cases with worsening symptoms, people may have trouble walking, talking or doing simple tasks. They may also have problems such as depression, sleep problems or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s usually begin slowly, develop gradually and in no particular order. It is important to remember that everyone with Parkinson’s is very different and may have a different collection of symptoms and response to treatment.

The nature and severity of symptoms and the rate at which the condition progresses will also be individual. The symptoms may take years to progress to a point where they cause major problems and when they do, many of these symptoms can be treated.

Diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease is a difficult disease to diagnose. Its symptoms vary from person to person and mimic symptoms of numerous other diseases, making an accurate diagnosis difficult in some people. Parkinson’s disease is usually diagnosed by a neurologist or a movement disorder specialist, who evaluates a person’s symptoms and may conduct a brain scan.

If you are experiencing signs and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, or have other reasons to believe you may have Parkinson’s disease, talk to your doctor without delay. Early testing and diagnosis can help you manage your symptoms very well. You may also find that your symptoms are due to some other condition entirely and get the help you need.

The Symptoms of Parkinson’s can be classified as motor and non-motor. Motor Symptomsdefine Parkinson’s, with three primary features:

1. Tremor – which usually begins in one hand. This is the first symptom for 70% of people with Parkinson’s.

2. Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – people with Parkinson’s may find that they have difficulty initiating movements or that performing movements takes longer.

3. Stiffness or rigidity of muscles – problems with activities such as standing up from a chair or rolling over in bed may be experienced.

Non-Motor Symptoms may also be experienced, for example:

  • sleep disturbances
  • constipation
  • urinary urgency
  • depression

When about 80% of dopamine production has been lost, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear and the level of dopamine will continue to fall slowly over many years.

The reason why the loss of dopamine occurs in the brains of people with Parkinson’s is currently unknown. Most researchers believe it is likely that many factors play a role in causing Parkinson’s. Areas of research into the cause include genetics and environmental factors.

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