Definition: What Is Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disease characterized by the progressive loss of neurons, resulting in multiple motor disorders. It affects an area of the brain responsible for making and releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which plays a vital role in controlling body movement. The disease occurs most often in people over the age of sixty. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease just after Alzheimer's disease.
Symptoms And Evolution Of Parkinson's Disease
Contrary to popular belief, tremors are not the predominant sign of Parkinson's disease. It is in fact characterized by three main primary symptoms:
- Akinesia: These are difficulties in movement; gestures are slow and imprecise. This is the most common sign of Parkinson's disease.
- Muscular hypertonia: This corresponds to an excessive rigidity of the muscles. It is usually accompanied by pain in the muscles and along the spine.
- Tremors: Tremors which take place only when the patient makes no movement.
There are also many secondary symptoms found in a large number of patients such as depression, incontinence, constipation, dandruff, sleep disorders or hypersalivation.
Degeneration is a slow process which constantly evolves. When symptoms appear, the disease has already been in place for several years. The more it progresses, the more the symptoms worsen and the more the patient loses their autonomy, until the point where they find it difficult to carry out everyday tasks.
Diagnosis Of Parkinson's Disease
The diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is complex to obtain because each case differs. It is based in particular on the presence of at least two of the three major symptoms. The greatest difficulty of diagnosis is to differentiate the disease from Parkinson's syndromes which have symptoms in common but which are due to the consumption of neuroleptics and require a different treatment.
The presence of certain signs can lead to Parkinson's syndrome such as repeated falls, tremors in movement or early dementia.
Causes Of Parkinson's Disease
The causes of Parkinson's disease are still unknown. Researchers have dismissed many hypotheses in recent years and are currently looking at a combination of genetic factors, particularly for those in whom the disease appears before the age of 50, and environmental factors such as exposure to heavy metals, chemical pollutants or pesticides.
Treatment Of Parkinson's Disease
There is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease. Prescription drugs are intended to correct the patient's symptoms by increasing the presence of dopamine in the brain to restore normal concentration. There are two methods: the treatments provide either a precursor to this molecule (levodopa) or a dopamine agonist, a substance that reduces the degradation of the latter.
If these medications do not work, there is a method called deep brain stimulation. This is a surgical technique that involves implanting electrodes in the brain to stimulate certain areas. This helps reduce the loss of neurons and limit the symptoms in everyday life. Nevertheless, this treatment is reserved for only 10-15% of patients, under very strict conditions.
Life Expectancy With Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson's disease does not directly affect the life expectancy of those affected. However, with age, the risk of complications increases.