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Parkinson’s disease

 

Parkinson's disease is very common, affecting 1 in 100 people over the age of 65. In the UK today there are 120,000 people with Parkinson's disease.

 

The disease slowly destroys the part of the brain that controls movement, and reduces the levels of a vital chemical called dopamine.

 

What are the symptoms?

The first signs are a tremor in the hand or foot, followed by difficulties moving and walking.

 

Movements become slow and stiff, sometimes a foot may ‘freeze’ as if it is glued to the floor and people may have difficulties with balance.

 

Many people with Parkinson’s speak more quietly and show fewer facial expressions. They blink and swallow more frequently than before.

 


Who gets Parkinson’s disease?

The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is not known. The disease is generally not inherited and there does not seem to be a virus or toxin that causes it.

 

Scientists don’t know why some people get PD and others do not.

 

What happens in the brain?

The disease causes the slow destruction of a group of brain cells in the basal ganglia. These brain cells normally produce a chemical called dopamine that transmits the nerve impulses involved in movement.

 

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease do not appear until 80% of these brain cells have been destroyed.

 

Alpha-synuclein

We all have a protein called alpha-synuclein in our cells, although scientists do not know its exact function. The damage to brain cells in Parkinson’s disease seems to be caused by aggregations of this protein. Click here to find out more.

 

Is there a cure?

No, but there are good treatments that reduce the symptoms. These include Levadopa, and drugs that increase the release of dopamine.

 

Does Parkinson’s disease run in families?

Generally no, however there are a few rare cases that seem to run in families. These families all have mutations affecting the protein alpha-synuclein.