WHAT IS PARKINSON’S?
Parkinson’s disease is a neuro-degenerative condition. The term “neuro-degenerative” means that it is a condition involving the degeneration of the neurons (cells) in the brain that progresses over time.
So what happens in the brain in Parkinson’s?
Our brain has certain chemicals called neurotransmitters that send messages to different parts of the body in order to control our body functions and movements. In a small area in the brain called the substantia nigra, an important neurotransmitter called Dopamine is produced.
In Parkinson’s, there is a 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.
As Parkinson’s progresses, the amount of dopamine in the brain further decreases, increasing problems with movement control, errors in planning of a movement, muscular stiffness, tremor and mood.
Here are some important points to remember about the condition:
- Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s at present, it’s symptoms can be managed effectively. Excellent research is ongoing to find a cure for Parkinson’s.
- It is a life altering condition, but it is not life threatening, meaning that the condition itself does not cause death/ is not fatal.
- Parkinson’s progresses slowly over time. It is difficult to estimate the rate of progression, the level of severity and the types of symptoms as Parkinson’s affects every individual differently.
- Medications, exercise, a healthy lifestyle and allied therapies have proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s and maintaining the quality of life, making it possible to live independently and productively.
- As the condition progresses, it is important to visit your doctor regularly so that the condition can be monitored and timely adjustments in medication can be made.
Parkinson’s is seen not only in the elderly but also in people between 21 – 40 years of age (termed as Early Onset Parkinson’s) and people below 20 years of age (Juvenile Parkinson’s).
The onset of Parkinson’s before 50 years of age is termed Young Onset Parkinson’s.
WHAT CAUSES PARKINSON’S ?
Parkinson’s is often referred to as “Idiopathic Parkinson’s” meaning that the underlying cause of the condition is unclear. The reason for the loss of Dopamine- producing cells has yet to be determined. There are, however, many risk factors that that can increase the chances of developing Parkinson’s.
Even though there are no known causes of Parkinson’s, there are certain factors that are believed to potentially increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s-
- Age -The single biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson’s is advancing age, especially over the age of 60.
- Gender- Men have a slightly increased risk compared to women.
- Family History- A few research studies have found out that an individual with a first degree relative with Parkinson’s may have a higher risk of developing the Parkinson’s. Around 15-25% of people with Parkinson’s (PwPs) do report having a first relative with Parkinson’s.
- Genetic- Variations occur in our gene structures and functions that can put us at risk for certain health conditions. Parkinson’s is associated with variations in genes like LRRK2, PARK7, PINK1, PRKN, etc.
- Drugs- The history of drug- induced Parkinson’s (DIP) parallels that of the use of antipsychotics. Gastrointestinal prokinetic drugs, including metoclopramide, levosulpiride, clebopride, itopride, and domperidone, have also been associated with DIP.
- Head injury – An increased risk of Parkinson’s is associated with trauma to the brain.
- Environmental risks – Exposure to herbicides and pesticides may increase the risk of Parkinson’s. Exposure to metals like manganese have led to the development of Parkinsonian features.