Parkinson’s disease is a chronic condition that is caused by deterioration in regions of the brain that control movement.
Neurons, the densely clustered bundles of nerve cells that send and receive signals in the brain, lose the ability to produce dopamine, a chemical crucial to transmitting messages about movement. Although the exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, there are commonalities in the brains of Parkinson’s sufferers that point to the origins of the disease. Abnormal accumulations of protein, known as Lewy bodies, are found on dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, the brain stem, and other regions of the brain responsible for movement.
Parkinson’s symptoms are typically mild in the beginning, and become worse over time, progressing in stages. Early signs of Parkinson’s include body tremors, which are often initially mild and confined to once side of the body, stiffness, difficulty moving, slow movement, stooped posture, small, cramped handwriting, and a rigid, mask-like facial expression. As the disease progresses, these symptoms become more pronounced, and others develop. In later stages, Parkinson’s symptoms may include psychiatric, digestive, and urinary problems. Every person’s experience of Parkinson’s is unique; some people may struggle with severe tremors, while others may have more trouble with stiffness or slowness of movement.
There is at present no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are treatments available to address its symptoms. A combination of the drugs levodopa and carbidopa is often effective in the treatment of stiffness and slowness of movement. However, these drugs are not especially successful in treating tremors, and may not have any effect on balance or other symptoms. A class of drugs called anticholinergics inhibit the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for involuntary movement. These drugs can help to alleviate rigidity and tremors. Ropinirole, bromocriptine, and pramipexole are drugs that mimic dopamine, and stimulate neurons to regulate movement.
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