Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurological and degenerative disease that affects the neurons responsible for the control of movement. It is a progressive condition: the symptoms appear gradually and slowly get worse.
PD received its name from James Parkinson, a British doctor, author of "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy" published in 1817; however, as early as 5000BC it is possible to find some descriptions of the disease in India.
The average age of onset is around 60 years of age, but one in ten are under 50. As age increases, the number of patients affected by PD increases. Slightly more men than women are affected.
As per the European PD Association (EPDA), around 6.3 million people have Parkinson’s worldwide, affecting all races and cultures. According to available statistics, 1.2 million people in the European Union have PD: approximately 260,000 in Germany; 200,000 in Italy; 150,000 in Spain; 120,000 in UK; 117,000 in France and around 22.000 in Portugal.
High profile public figures, such as Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have helped raise awareness and understanding of PD.
What causes Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's is a disease caused by loss of specific brain neurons producing dopamine, a small neurological molecule responsible for controlling the movement.
The reason why these neurons are lost and PD appears is unknown, though most researches think the cause of the disease includes both genetic and environmental factors, as well as the interaction among both and individual factors.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's?
Everyone with PD has different symptoms. As PD is a progressive condition, symptoms begin gradually, normally in just one side of the body at first, although both sides will eventually be affected, and worsen over time.
The most common PD symptoms are associated with movement, known as "motor symptoms", and there are three main motor symptoms or cardinal symptoms:
- Tremor or shaking in hands, arms, legs, jaw and face. Usually most marked at rest and improving when the patient is doing a task.
- Muscular rigidity, causing stiffness of limbs and trunk during movement, even pain.
- Bradykinesia or slowness of movement: this can make difficult to initiate movement.
Other motor symptoms are:
- Difficulties with balance, posture and coordination can deteriorate as PD progresses.
- Communications problems: As rigidity can cause loss of facial expression, the speech and body language are affected, and the handwriting may be difficult to understand.
These are the symptoms not related to movement and they can have a considerable impact in your quality of life: Poor sense of smell, constipation, depression, pain, fatigue, thinking and memory problems, and swallowing problems.
How is Parkinson's Disease diagnosed?
PD is not easy to diagnose, as there are no specific laboratory tests for such diagnose. The diagnose must be done by a neurologist that will examine the person for any physical signs of PD and take a detailed history of the symptoms the patient is experiencing.
The symptoms vary from person to person and there are other conditions with similar symptoms. For these reasons misdiagnose is sometimes made and it's important the diagnose is made by a specialist.
How is Parkinson's Disease treated?
At present, there is no cure for Parkinson's, but medication can provide a relief of symptoms for a long time. As we know the loss of dopamine in the brain causes the symptoms, there are medications for replacing the dopamine lost, such as levodopa (precursor of dopamine), the dopamine agonists (that mimic the role of dopamine of the brain), the MAO-B inhibitors and the COMT inhibitors (that avoid the degradation of the dopamine).
In some carefully selected patients, a surgical therapy called DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) may be appropriate.
Preparing for life with Parkinson's
Everyone's experience of Parkinson's is different, and the debilitating PD symptoms, affects not only patients: family members are often involved in helping patients and cope with the decline in their ability to function.
There are many patient organizations working at a local, national and global level that can help and support PD patients and their families e.g. “European Parkinson's Disease Association”, EPDA at European level or the Portuguese APDP, “Associação Portuguesa de Doentes de Parkinson”
For more information:
World Parkinson's Day 2018 Campaign
World Parkinson's Day 2017 Campaign