Parkinson's Disease

  • Basics

    Parkinson's disease (PD) is a slowly progressive neurological disorder with primary symptoms of resting tremor, slowness, stiffness, and problems with balance. Parkinson's disease (PD) occurs equally often in men and women, and occurs with similar frequency in all ethnic groups.The disease is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 45 and 65.

    There are two types of PD: idiopathic and secondary. The major type of Parkinson's disease is called idiopathic Parkinson's, and has no known cause. Approximately 25% of PD cases come from secondary causes such as head trauma, exposure to toxins, brain infection, and certain drugs. This article focuses on idiopathic PD.

  • Causes

    PD results when dopamine is lost in the portion of the brain that helps to coordinate movement (the basal ganglia) Figure 01. When nerve cells degenerate within a structure of the brain that connects to the basal ganglia (called the substantia nigra), levels of a brain chemical called dopamine decrease. This decrease impairs communication between nerve cells in the brain, and causes the symptoms of PD.

    Researchers still don't know why nerve cells degenerate. However, they believe that it may occur as a result of interactions between environmental and genetic factors. Some researchers believe that exposure to toxins might contribute to PD; manganese dust and carbon disulfide are two such toxins that have been linked to the disease. In addition, a substance linked to heroin use called MPTP has also been associated with PD.

    While several genetic factors are thought to be linked to Parkinson's disease, it is rare that Parkinson's runs in families.

    It is thought that cells in the brain are destroyed by substances called free radicals. Free radicals are produced by chemical processes in the brain. Medications called antioxidants are used to control free radicals.

    Secondary PD can result from other diseases, infection, toxins, head injuries, and certain drugs that affect the brain chemical dopamine.

    Click to enlarge: Basal Ganglia and Corpus Striatum

    Figure 01. Basal Ganglia and Corpus Striatum

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