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Parkinson's Disease

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Introduction

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system, characterized by impaired muscular coordination and tremors.
Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that is chronic and progressive, affecting the part of the brain that controls the movement of muscles. Parkinson's disease is also termed progressive because the symptoms worsen over time.

The most common form is Idiopathic Parkinson's disease, the cause of this is not known. Other forms of Parkinson's include:

  • Postencephalitic Parkinsonism, Drug-Induced Parkinsonism
  • Striatonigral Degeneration, Toxin-Induced Parkinsonism,
  • Arteriosclerotic Parkinsonism or Pseudoparkinsonism.

Exactly what causes this disease is still not known, although many researchers suspect that it could be caused due to a combination of facts, such as: accelerated aging; hereditary predisposition; environmental toxins; and free radicals.

Treatment

With modern advances in medicine, Parkinson's disease can be treated quite effectively, compared to other serious neurological diseases. The symptoms are caused due to the degeneration of brain cells that produce dopamine, particularly in the locus coeruleus and the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter which is essential for the normal functioning of the central nervous system, or the nerve cells that control the movement of muscles. When there is a reduction of the production of dopamine, the nerves of the motor system lose their capacity to control coordination and movement of the muscles. In fact, by the time Parkinson's disease symptoms occur, the afflicted person has already lost about 80 percent or so of their cells that produce dopamine.

Symptoms

The progress of the disease can either occur gradually, over time, or swiftly. While some people are able to function comparatively well, other people experience profound disability. Parkinson's disease symptoms can vary from one moment to another as well as from one day to another, the reason for this variation of symptoms is not quite clear. Some scientists attribute the variations to the process of the disease or to the medications taken for it.

The symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:

  • Tremors: Usually starts with a slight trembling of the hand.
  • Bradykinesia: Slowing down of movement.
  • Rigidity of Muscles
  • Parkinsonian gait: This is the difficulty in walking.
  • Impaired Balance
  • Impairment of Automatic Movements: This is movements like Swinging the arms while walking, smiling & blinking.
  • Impairment of Speech: There is often difficulty in speaking, known as hypophonia.
  • Difficulty in Swallowing: This usually occurs in the advanced stages of the disease.
  • Dementia: Also occurs with Parkinson's disease, occurring in its later stages.

Tremors:
Tremors usually begin with a slight trembling of the hand, or even a single finger, or the forearm. Tremor can also occur in the foot. These tremors have a tendency of occurring when the limb is at rest, disappearing while carrying out tasks. Sometimes the chin and mouth can also tremble. Although most people find tremors very distressing, it is generally not disabling.

Bradykinesia:
Bradykinesia is a slowing down of voluntary movement. Not only does difficulty occur when movement is initiated, but it is also difficult to complete the movement once it is set in motion. This occurs due to the reduction of dopamine, which causes delay in the transmission of signals from the brain to the muscles.

Rigidity of Muscles:
Stiffness of the muscles can cause pain in the muscles & create a mask-like, expressionless face. This symptom has the tendency of increasing during movement. Rigidity may also affect the neck & limbs.

Parkinsonian Gait:
The unsteady gait associated with this disease is one of its characteristic symptoms. People afflicted with this disease have a tendency of either leaning forward or backward unnaturally. They also develop drooped-shoulders, head-bent-down, and generally stooped stance. They have a tendency of taking shuffling, small steps, known as festination. They have difficulty in starting to walk, seem to be falling forward while walking, freeze in the middle of their stride, and find it difficult to turn.

Impaired Balance:
This is caused because of the loss or impairment of the reflexes that help in adjusting the posture required for maintaining balance. It is common for people suffering from Parkinson's disease to lose their balance & fall.

Impairment of Automatic Movements:
This is movements like Swinging the arms while walking, smiling & blinking. These movements are affected in a person with Parkinson's disease, & are either reduced or completely lost. This sometimes results in the person staring, with a fixed expression, without blinking. Others may lose their gesticulating ability or look animated while speaking.

Impairment of Speech:
There is often difficulty in speaking, the voice usually becomes very soft & monotonous. This symptom is also known as hypophonia.

Difficulty in Swallowing:
This usually occurs in the advanced stages of the disease. This symptom is also known as dysphagia, and causes drooling, coughing, or choking. However, except rarely, most people affected by this symptom have the ability to eat food on their own.

Dementia:
This is usually associated with Alzheimer's disease, but can also occur with Parkinson's disease, occurring in its later stages. The onset of this is usually marked with a slowing down of thought processes & difficulty in concentration.

Other Parkinson's symptoms are:

  • Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating
  • Incontinence
  • Seborrhea, or scaling of the skin, particularly on the scalp and face
  • Micrographia, or handwriting that is small and cramped
  • Psychosocial problems like depression, anxiety, & a feeling of isolation.

Not all of these symptoms occur together in most people afflicted with the disease.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.

References

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