Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the central nervous system
that affects up to 1.5 million Americans. Because it is not
contagious and does not have to be reported by physicians, the
incidence of the disease is often underestimated.
Parkinson's may appear at
any age, but it is uncommon in people younger than 30, and the
risk of developing it increases with age. It occurs in all parts
of the world, and men are affected slightly more often than women
People with Parkinson's disease
may also suffer many secondary symptoms. These include
depression, sleep disturbances, dizziness, stooped posture,
constipation, dementia, and problems with speech, breathing,
swallowing, and sexual function. It is important to note that
individual patients experience different symptoms.
The actual cause of Parkinson's
disease is not known. Although a defective gene was recently
found in a few families with extraordinary high incidences of
Parkinson's disease, most researchers believe that in the vast
majority of cases, genetic factors alone are not responsible for
causing the disease. Instead, it is suspected that Parkinson's
disease usually results from the combination of a genetic
predisposition and an unidentified environmental trigger.
When Parkinson's disease occurs,
degenerative changes are found in an area of the brain known as
the substantia nigra. This area produces dopamine, a chemical
substance that enables people to move normally and smoothly.
Parkinson's disease is characterized by a severe shortage of
dopamine. It is this deficiency that causes the symptoms of
Parkinson's disease can be
difficult to diagnose. No single lab test confirms Parkinson's
disease, and many symptoms mimic other illnesses. A diagnosis is
made through an extensive review of a patient's medical history,
coupled with an analysis of results from routine lab