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The 411 on Parkinson's
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 3)

Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinsonís disease (PD) can be devastating for families. Even more devastating is not understanding the disease, how to live with it, how it can be treated, or anything else about this debilitating disease. Families can be desperate for information on PD and what to expect in the coming weeks, months, and years.

PD is a movement disorder affecting more than one million people in the United States. According to Science News, more than 50,000 people are diagnosed with PD each year. There is no cure, yet there is treatment available and options vary greatly depending on how soon the diagnosis made.

Causes of Parkinsonís:

In order to understand what the disease is, it is helpful to understand what causes the disease. There is some evidence to suggest that the disease has a genetic component, although not all individuals who have the disease also have a family member with the disease. Environment also plays a role, although scientists have not determined to what extent environment interacts with genetics to cause (or not cause) Parkinsonís.

Some environmental theories include exposure to pesticides or some other environmental toxin. One interesting piece of research sponsored by the Parkinsonís Foundation suggests that there are several factors along the environmental track that may contribute to PD. These factors include ďrural living, well water, and herbicide use and exposure to pesticides.Ē

In order for Parkinsonís to develop, a part of the brain, the substantia negra, begins to malfunction and eventually dies. This part of the brain is responsible for producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts as a message relay for coordinated movement in the body. As the substantia negra dies, dopamine production diminishes greatly, causing further and further disruption to the movement centers within the brain. Finally, the person is unable to voluntarily control movement of the body.

Symptoms of Parkinsonís:

Before going to the physician for answers, many people start experiencing symptoms of PD that cause some concerns. These usually start in individuals older than 60 years of age, although people who are much younger have been diagnosed with PD. For example, Michael J. Fox is one of the most famous individuals with PD with news of his diagnosis announced in 1998. Up until his diagnosis at age 30 (in 1991, although his diagnosis was not made public for seven years), the disease was relatively unknown and received little funding or research directed toward its symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment options.


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