ARTICLES / Parkinson's /
The 411 on Parkinson's /
Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinsonís disease (PD) can
be devastating for families. Even more devastating is
not understanding the disease, how to live with it, how
it can be treated, or anything else about this
debilitating disease. Families can be desperate for
information on PD and what to expect in the coming
weeks, months, and years.
PD is a movement disorder affecting more than one
million people in the United States. According to
Science News, more than 50,000 people are diagnosed with
PD each year. There is no cure, yet there is treatment
available and options vary greatly depending on how soon
the diagnosis made.
Causes of Parkinsonís:
In order to understand what the disease is, it is
helpful to understand what causes the disease. There is
some evidence to suggest that the disease has a genetic
component, although not all individuals who have the
disease also have a family member with the disease.
Environment also plays a role, although scientists have
not determined to what extent environment interacts with
genetics to cause (or not cause) Parkinsonís.
Some environmental theories include exposure to
pesticides or some other environmental toxin. One
interesting piece of research sponsored by the
Parkinsonís Foundation suggests that there are several
factors along the environmental track that may
contribute to PD. These factors include ďrural living,
well water, and herbicide use and exposure to
In order for Parkinsonís to develop, a part of the
brain, the substantia negra, begins to malfunction and
eventually dies. This part of the brain is responsible
for producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts as
a message relay for coordinated movement in the body. As
the substantia negra dies, dopamine production
diminishes greatly, causing further and further
disruption to the movement centers within the brain.
Finally, the person is unable to voluntarily control
movement of the body.
Symptoms of Parkinsonís:
Before going to the physician for answers, many
people start experiencing symptoms of PD that cause some
concerns. These usually start in individuals older than
60 years of age, although people who are much younger
have been diagnosed with PD. For example, Michael J. Fox
is one of the most famous individuals with PD with news
of his diagnosis announced in 1998. Up until his
diagnosis at age 30 (in 1991, although his diagnosis was
not made public for seven years), the disease was
relatively unknown and received little funding or
research directed toward its symptoms, diagnosis,
causes, and treatment options.