Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that affects one in 500 people. Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. These nerve cells are responsible for the production of dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and coordinate body movements.
A reduction in dopamine levels is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, the majority of symptoms occur after around 80% of nerve cells have been lost. The exact cause of the loss of nerve cells is unknown but lead researcher’s believe that it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Parkinson’s disease accompanies a wide variety of symptoms including loss of movement, rigidity, tremors, insomnia and depression. Everyone who has Parkinson’s experiences these symptoms in a different way and to different degrees.
Parkinsonism is the umbrella term which describes conditions that share the same symptoms as Parkinson’s disease. Idiopathic parkinson’s, or Parkinson’s Disease, is the most common type of parkinson’s. There is no known cause for this type of parkinson’s. It is usually diagnosed by measuring response to medication, if symptoms alleviate and decrease in severity, then it can be said that the patient does suffer from idiopathic parkinson’s disease.
Vascular Parkinsonism occurs when blood supply to the brain is restricted. This atypical form of Parkinson’s usually affects older people with diabetes and those who have suffered from a stroke. Symptoms include a difficulty speaking and swallowing and in making facial expressions. Cognitive problems and memory loss also accompany this form of Parkinson’s disease.
Drug induced Parkinsonism occurs through use of neuroleptic drugs that are used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. These drugs block dopamine and are thought to be the biggest cause of drug-induced parkinsonism. In this type of Parkinson’s recovery can occur at a much faster rate than that of others.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies is similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Symptoms include problems with memory and concentration, attention, language and the ability to carry out simple actions. Yet again, dementia with lewy bodies is a progressive condition which worsens with time.
People who have genes that are prone to Parkinson’s may be more likely to develop the condition when combined with other factors, such as environmental toxins or viruses.
Treatment of Parkinson’s disease varies, however drug treatment is the main form of treatment used. Drug treatments aim to increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain and stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works. Examples of drugs used in treatment include:
Levodopa which is a chemical building-block that your body converts into dopamine. It replaces the dopamine that is lost in
Dopamine agonists which act like dopamine to stimulate your nerve cells.
However, these drugs can have side effects, one example is dyskinesia which is where those who have Parkinson’s suffer from involuntary movements that are uncontrollable. Another side effect is impulsive and compulsive behaviour. This affects people who are taking dopamine agonists, which act in a similar manner to dopamine within the body.
Therapies that are used in treatment include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, seeing a dietician and complementary therapies.
Surgery is also used in treatment despite medication being the main sort of treatment. The main procedure carried out is:
Deep Brain Stimulation, which is used to minimise symptoms. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting very fine wires with electrodes at their tips into the brain.These are connected to extensions that are placed under the skin behind the ear and down the neck. They are connected to a pulse generator (a device like a pacemaker), which is placed under the skin around the chest or stomach area. High frequency stimulation is targeted onto a small area, this changes some of the electrical signals responsible for the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Lesioning: can also be used which involves making selective damage (a lesion) to cells in a target area of the brain. The target site is found using a brain scan. An electrode is then inserted into the site and an electric current is passed through the tip. The current is used to target some of the cells that control movement.
In our day and age, Parkinson’s disease and its symptoms are both manageable and treatable and with advances in modern medicine, the process is becoming increasingly streamlined, improving the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s worldwide.