Created | Updated Jan 28, 2002
First described by James Parkinson in 1817, Parkinson's Disease1 is a progressive disease which affects human movement; observable mainly by fatigue, shaking, tremors, difficulty walking, stiffness, loss of balance, slow movement and poor co-ordination.
This is a disease which is mainly prevalent in older humans, usually over 50 years of age, but is known to occur in some younger humans, although it is rare in children. It is caused by the gradual deterioration or damage to nerve cells in particular parts of the brain2. Specifically targeted are the areas and links within this organ that organises and facilitates muscle movement. The mechanism by which muscle movement is controlled within the brain lies mainly in the basal ganglia and extrapyramidal area. Lack of a particular chemical, or production of, a neuro-transmitter called Dopamine and therefore its balance with other transmitters and receptors, means that the nerve cells cannot properly transmit messages to the muscles and this results in a loss of ability to initiate movement or to move smoothly.
Causes and Incidence
PD is sometimes referred to as age-induced Parkinsonism or Idiopathic Parkinson's, ie, no known cause.
Drug induced PD is initiated by long term use of various drugs.
PD can be caused by physical shock and damage to the brain.
PD affects commonly two in every 1,000 humans.
Depression, anxiety and stress often exacerbate the symptoms of this disease.
Methods of Control
Non-permanent relief of symptoms can be given by anti-cholinergic drugs, dopamine-receptor agonists and levadopa. Unfortunately the effectiveness of these drugs diminishes and side-effects increase over time.
Eldepryl may be used in conjunction with other anti-Parkinson's drugs to decrease the 'end of dose' effect often seen with chronic usage. There is, however, no convincing evidence that it slows the progression of the disease.
Antioxidants may be of some benefit.
Surgical treatments are sometimes used in more severe cases or when medications become less effective. These are lateral or bilateral pallidotomy, deep brain stimulation or, more recently, the experimental insertion of porcine or human embryo dopamine producing cells.
If uncontrolled, the PD sufferer will succumb to total immobility and disability and probable early death.
If treated, movement control is still impaired but the decline is often slowed, although by how much varies from individual to individual.
Parkinson's Disease Facts and Fantasy
Small, fine-motor movements are difficult for PD sufferers.
The 'Parkinsonian Mask' is a term relating to some PD Sufferers' inability to smile. They may well be laughing inside. On the other hand they may be severely depressed.
Slurred speech does not mean they are drunk or are alcoholic.
An unmodulated or quiet voice does not mean there is no emotional feeling.
PD Sufferers are not necessarily intellectually impaired.
Parkinson's Disease progresses at different rates for each individual.
Writhing movements3 are more attributable to the side-effects of drugs used to help the individual control PD.
Dementia and hallucinations can occur in severe cases but are more often associated with side-effects of the powerful drugs used to treat the disease.
PD is sometimes known as 'Shaking Palsy'.
The most famous PD Sufferer is Mohammed Ali.
Where to Find Out More:
Doctor's Guide to Parkinson's Disease. Information & Resources
Parkinson List Drug Database Index