Parkinson’s Disease

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE?

Parkinson’s is a chronic, degenerative, neurological condition resulting from the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally-occurring chemical (neurotransmitter) that allows the nerve cells in the brain to transmit messages between eachother and then to muscles to allow normal movement to take place. When eighty percent of dopamine in the brain is depleted, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop. Parkinson’s disease is one of the several conditions categorized as a “movement” disorder”.

The four primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are: tremor, rigidity, slowed movement (bradykinesia), and impaired balance. Other symptoms include loss of facial expression; difficulty in swallowing, chewing and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions. In as many as half of the Parkinson’s case, the disease causes psychological complications such as anxiety and depression. Symptoms vary from individual to individual. Also, in some cases, the disease progresses more quickly than in others. As the disease worsens, the symptoms begin to interfere with daily activities.

WHAT CAUSES PARKINSON’S DISEASE?

No one knows what causes Parkinson’s. Most cases arise spontaneously; some are hereditary. What is known is that cells die off in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra. These are the cells that manufacture dopamine. Drug therapies have focused on replacing dopamine or addressing specific symptoms associated with the disease. With recent scientific advances, including the identification of several Parkinson’s genes, research into this disease is expanding rapidly. Researchers are now examining newly discovered biochemical pathways involved in the disease and uncovering new targets for therapy. Treatments and diagnostic procedures are improving, and there is new hope for a cure for this insidious disease.

WHO GETS PARKINSON’S?

An estimated 100,000 Canadian’s have Parkinson’s. Approximately 6000 people are newly diagnosed each year. Parkinson’s affects three percent of the population older than 60. The average age of onset of symptoms is 60, but up to ten percent of individuals have symptoms before the age of 40. Eighty-five percent of those diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 65. Since people are living longer, this age group (>65), is predicted to increase significantly. Thus, the prevalance of Parkinson’s disease is expected to triple in the next 30-50 years.

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