Parkinson's disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological condition that affects the control of body movements. It causes trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs or trunk; slowness of body movements; and unstable posture and difficulty in walking. Early symptoms are subtle and occur gradually.
It happens when the neurons (nerve cells) that normally produce dopamine in the brain gradually die. The death of these cells leads to abnormally low levels of dopamine, a chemical which helps relay messages between areas of the brain that control body movement. Low levels of dopamine give rise to difficulty in controlling muscle tension and muscle movement, both at rest and during periods of activity.
Parkinson's disease currently affects about 40,000 Australians. Approximately one to two people per 1,000 are estimated to have the disorder, with the incidence increasing to one in 100 of people over the age of 60. It is slightly more common in men than in women.
So far, scientists have not determined the reason why some people develop Parkinson's disease and others do not. Suggested causes include environmental factors such as pesticides, toxins and chemicals; genetic factors (although the disease appears to be inherited in only a small percentage of cases) and head trauma.
A variety of medications enable the disease to be managed and provide dramatic relief from the symptoms. In some cases, surgery is an appropriate treatment. Some doctors recommend multi-disciplinary treatment by physiotherapists, dietitians and counsellors. No two people will experience the condition in the same way, so management will vary.
Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive illness, and no drug can prevent the progression of the disease.
Further Information and Support
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- Parkinson’s NSW Inc
Building 21, Macquarie Hospital, 120 Coxs Road (Cnr North Rd), North Ryde NSW 2133
Freecall 1800 644 189
- Parkinson’s VIC Inc
20 Kingston Road, Cheltenham VIC 3192
Ph (03) 9551 1122
- Parkinson's QLD Inc
PO Box 1684, Springwood QLD 4127
Ph (07) 3209 1588
- Parkinson's SA Inc
23A King William Road, Unley SA 5061
Ph (08) 8357 8909
- Parkinson's WA Inc
Centre for Neurological Support, The Niche - Suite B, 11 Aberdare Road, Nedlands WA 6009
Ph (08) 9346 7373
- Parkinson's ACT Inc
PO Box 222, Calwell ACT 2905
Ph (02) 6278 8916
- Parkinson's TAS Inc
Locked bag 4, Sandy Bay TAS 7005
Ph (03) 6229 2509
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National Institutes of Health - USA
Harvard Medical School (Look Up – Health A-Z)
Michael J Fox Foundation - USA
Reviewed by Professor John Morris, Neurologist, Westmead Hospital