Parkinson's (Movement Disorders)

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system, meaning symptoms get worse over time. Its symptoms -- tremors (often starting in one hand), slowed movement, rigidity -- are caused when nerve cells in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine start to break down and die. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or messenger, that sends messages to the parts of the brain that control movement. Parkinson’s disease affects men and women equally, usually after age 60. About 10% of people with the disease are under age 40. No cure is available, but drug therapy can help reduce the symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms can start very gradually and not be noticed for years. Often they start on one side of the body and may include the following:

  • Tremor, often beginning with a mild shaking in the hand
  • Loss of balance
  • Stiffness and rigid limbs
  • Walking problems
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia)
  • Not blinking

Secondary symptoms may include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dementia
  • Speech, breathing, swallowing problems
  • Stooped posture

Causes

Researchers aren’t sure why some people get Parkinson’s. In people with Parkinson’s, brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine start to die. Dopamine send signals to the areas of the brain that deal with muscle activity and movement. The brain starts to lose the ability to tell the body when and how to move. Risk factors include having a relative with Parkinson's, being exposed to certain pesticides and herbicides, getting older, and lower levels of estrogen in women. 

Treatment

Exercise, especially intensive exercise, has been shown to improve symptoms and help maintain balance and mobility. Walking, swimming, jogging, or even dancing may help. Because people with Parkinson's disease have low levels of vitamin D, they are at risk of osteoporosis. Lifting weights can help reduce that risk. Your doctor may recommend an exercise program for you. 

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