Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder that is mainly characterized by problems with body movements, although other symptoms can also occur. Parkinson’s is a slowly progressive condition that is life altering but not life threatening. However, the rate of progression of Parkinson’s and the degree of affection may vary from one individual to the other. Parkinson’s is the second most common neuro-degenerative disorder and one of the most common movement disorders.
Our brain controls all our body functions and movements. It does this by sending messages through nerves to different parts of the body. These messages are in the form of chemicals called neurotransmitters. This transmission of messages gets affected in Parkinson’s.
One important neurotransmitter that is involved in controlling body movements is called dopamine. A small area in the brain stem called the substantia nigra produces dopamine, a chemical that is responsible for controlling speed and planning of movements.
Today we understand Parkinson’s to be a disorder that results from the loss of dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra. The symptoms of Parkinson’s begin when there is a reduction of around 70-80% of the dopamine producing cells. This results in errors in planning of a movement, difficulty in movement, muscular stiffness and tremor. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine in the brain further decreases, increasing problems with movement control.
Medications are effective at controlling the symptoms of Parkinson’s and help in maintaining a good quality of life. Excellent research is ongoing to find a cure for Parkinson’s.
With increasing life expectancy, the number of people affected with Parkinson’s is thought to rise in the future. Parkinson’s is globally distributed, affecting all cultures and races, with an estimated worldwide prevalence of 6.3 million people.
Parkinson’s tends to affect more men than women. The prevalence of the condition is considerably higher in the over-60 age group, even though there is an alarming increase of patients of younger age developing Parkinson’s. It has been estimated that approximately 1% of the population over the age of 60 and 4% over the age of 80 are expected to develop Parkinson’s. The most common form of Parkinson’s is adult onset which normally sets in after 50 years, followed by young onset Parkinson’s (between the age group 21-40) and juvenile onset Parkinsons’s (relatively rare; <21 years).
When was Parkinson’s discovered?
In 1817 an English doctor named James Parkinson characterized the condition and authored a work called the “The Shaking Palsy”. However his work went unrecognized until 1861, when a French neurologist Jean Martin Charcot and his other colleagues distinguished this condition from other neurological disorders. It was then that the condition was named as Parkinson’s in honor of Dr. James Parkinson who first described it in detail in medical literature.
Dr. James Parkinson was born on 11th April, which is why this day is celebrated annually as World Parkinson’s Day. This day is dedicated to advocating for people with Parkinson’s.
A few signs & symptoms like those found in Parkinson’s and possible treatments have also been discussed in Ayurveda, (an ancient form of Indian medicine) dating back to 5000BC, as well as more than 2500 years ago in the first Chinese medical text called Nei Jing.