September 2, 2014

What is Parkinson’s Disease

The British physician James Parkinson first described Parkinson’s disease as “the shaking palsy” in 1817. Parkinson’s disease is a non-contagious degenerative brain disorder that involves the deterioration and death of nerve cells/neurons leading to a loss of function and synchronization of electrical impulses.

The brain stem, in particular the midbrain structure the substantia nigra (“black substance”), is significantly affected by a high rate of cellular death of dopamine secreting cells. As a result, one of the 4 neural Dopamine pathways in the brain, the nigrostriatal pathway (associated with movement), experiences a significant decrease in dopamine function.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive disorder that primarily affects muscle and movement. However, approximately 20% will develop dementia in varying degrees of severity within 10-15 years from an initial Parkinson’s diagnosis.

What is Parkinson's Disease

An Essay on the Shaking Palsy

Parkinson’s disease is the 2nd most common neuro-degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. Although significant research progress has been made in the last decade, the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is still not fully understood.

The collective term Parkinsonism applies to a group of disorders whose similar symptoms result from degeneration and death of nerve connections that produce dopamine. Parkinson’s disease is the best known form of Parkinsonism and is therefore referred to as Idiopathic (no known cause) Parkinson’s disease or Primary Parkinsonism. The other forms of Parkinsonism include those whose condition is the results of another neurological disorder or the cause is suspected or known.

The next article in the Parkinsons disease early symptoms series will consider Parkinson’s disease statistics.