April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month!

An estimated seven to ten million people live with Parkinson’s disease worldwide and as many as 1.5 million live in the United States. Men and women are affected. The frequency of the disease is considerably higher in the over-60 age group, even though there is an alarming increase of patients of younger age.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. It involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

There are four key motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

· Tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaws and face

· Bradykinesia or slowness of movement

· Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk

· Postural Instability or impaired balance and coordination

Each of these symptoms can vary from person to person. The disease is diagnosed by performing a neurological examination along with the individual’s description of symptoms they are experiencing. The diagnosis depends upon the presence of one or more of the four most common motor symptoms of the disease. In addition, there are other secondary and non-motor symptoms that affect many people and are increasingly recognized by doctors as important to treating Parkinson’s.

Furthermore, each person with Parkinson’s will experience symptoms differently. For example, many people experience tremor as their primary symptom, while others may not have tremors, but may have problems with balance. Also, for some people the disease progresses quickly, and it others it does not.

By definition, Parkinson’s is a progressive disease. Although some people with Parkinson’s only have symptoms on one side of the body for many years, eventually the symptoms begin on the other side. Symptoms on the other side of the body often do not become as severe as the symptoms on the initial side.

The major symptoms of the disease were originally described in 1817 by an English, physician, Dr. James Parkinson, who called it “Shaking palsy”. Only in the 1960’s, however, pathological and biochemical changes in the brain of patients were identified, opening the way to the first effective medication for the disease.

Currently there is no cure to Parkinson’s disease, but there are treatment options available such as medication and surgery to help manage the symptoms. Research is also being done to find out about the possible causes associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Sources: Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, American Parkinson Disease Association