Parkinson's disease is a nervous system disorder. It is a progressive disorder that often begins with very minor symptoms and gradually gets worse. It is common for symptoms to begin on one side of the body and spread to other areas. The side of the body where the symptoms first appeared tends to remain worse than other areas. Parkinson's disease causes structural changes in the brain, and clumps of substances called Lewy bodies begin to appear in brain tissue. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than women.
The first sign of Parkinson's disease is often a very slight tremor in one hand. Many patients develop a back-and-forth rubbing movement of thumb and forefinger, known as “pill-rolling.” Muscle stiffness and slowed movements are characteristic of the disease, and patients may have impaired posture and balance. Speech problems often develop, and unconscious movements like blinking decrease. As the disease progresses, most of these symptoms become worse.
Parkinson's disease occurs because neurons (brain cells) gradually break down and die. The symptoms are caused by a decrease in a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) called dopamine. Genetic mutations and environmental toxins can cause Parkinson's disease, but this is uncommon. Heredity is a factor, although the risk is relatively low unless many family members have the condition. Risk increases with age; most patients develop the disease at age 60 or older.
Parkinson's disease is not a condition that can be cured. Treatment falls into three categories: medications, lifestyle changes, and surgery. Medications used in Parkinson's disease usually mimic the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine or encourage its production. These medications help control or improve the symptoms. Aerobic exercise and physical therapy can be helpful in promoting balance and stretching muscles, while a speech-language pathologist may help with speech problems. In advanced cases, doctors may recommend deep brain stimulation – implanting special electrodes into the brain.Sometimes alternative therapies like supplements, caffeine, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage are helpful.
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