11 April – World Parkinson’s Day
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Michel J Fox was one of the first really well-known celebrities to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. More recently Neil Diamond retired from touring as he was diagnosed also. But what is it?
Parkinson’s is the second most common neurological disease in Australia after dementia. The disease affects an estimated 10 million individuals worldwide. Around 80,000 people in Australia have the disease. 32 Aussies are diagnosed with the disease every day. 20% of sufferers are under 50 years old and a surprising 10% are diagnosed before the age of 40.
Parkinson’s disease affects the way you move. It occurs when there is a problem with certain nerve cells in the brain.
Normally, these nerve cells make an important chemical called dopamine. Dopamine sends signals to the part of your brain that controls and monitors movement. It allows your muscles to move smoothly and do what you want them to do.
These nerve cells break down when you have Parkinson’s. You no longer produce enough dopamine, and as a result, you have trouble moving the way you want to.
Parkinson’s is progressive, which means it gets worse over time and the effects more dramatic. Usually, this happens slowly, over many years. And there are a number of good treatments that can help you live a more full and complete life.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
No one knows for sure what makes these nerve cells break down. Scientists are currently doing a lot of research to look for the answer to this question. They are studying many possible causes, including ageing, poisons in the environment and others.
In many cases, it appears that abnormal genes can lead to Parkinson’s disease. However, to date, there is not enough evidence to show that it is always inherited.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms can be varied however the main symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
- Slowness of voluntary movements, especially in the initiation of such movements as walking or rolling over in bed
- Decreased facial expression, monotonous speech, and decreased eye blinking
- A shuffling gait with poor arm swing and stooped posture
- Unsteady balance; difficulty rising from a sitting position
- Continuous “pill-rolling” motion of the thumb and forefinger
- Abnormal tone or stiffness in the trunk and extremities
- Swallowing problems in later stages
- Lightheadedness or fainting when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
Call Your Doctor About Parkinson’s Disease If:
You suspect Parkinson’s disease might be at the root of any of the symptoms listed above. Drugs and other therapies are very effective in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. There are many ways to help a person with Parkinson’s disease.
The first step is, of course, diagnosis and you should visit your doctor if you have any concerns at all.
No specific test exists to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor, trained in nervous system conditions will diagnose Parkinson’s disease. This diagnosis will be based on your medical history and a review of your signs and symptoms. You will also have a neurological and physical examination to determine if Parkinson’s is the problem.