Understanding Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disease affecting muscle control and movement. It occurs when cells are destroyed in certain parts of the brain stem. These cells should release dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain). Loss of dopamine in the affected part of the brain is the primary cause of Parkinson's. The nerves and muscles controlling movement and coordination are damaged, and that results in the major symptoms characteristic of the disease. The most familiar symptom is a hand tremor. Parkinson's progresses slowly and is not usually fatal. The symptoms can often be controlled with medication. Parkinson's is rare in people younger than forty.

The cause of Parkinson's disease is currently unknown. Researchers are trying to discover why the brain of the affected person loses its dopamine, with studies showing that the underlying causes are probably both genetic and environmental. It may be as long as five years after the loss of dopamine that the first noticeable symptoms appear.

Several other ailments mimic the symptoms of Parkinson's, and your health professional will be the best resource for information on this aspect. Parkinson's Disease currently affects approximately 1 to 1.5 million people in the US.

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