What Is Parkinson's Disease?

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What Is Parkinson's Disease?
What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Video: What Is Parkinson's Disease?

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Video: What is Parkinson's Disease? 2023, January
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Parkinson's disease: what is it?

Parkinson’s disease (Parkinson’s disease, idiopathic Parkinson’s syndrome, “paralysis”) is a disease of the nervous system that is associated with various movement disorders. The symptoms are based on the premature gradual destruction of certain nerve cells in the brain, which leads to a lack of important messenger substances, especially dopamine. These degenerative processes mainly take place in areas of the brain that influence movement control, but also mood, sleep and thinking, etc. The majority of diseases occur in old age.

Parkinson's disease has no cure. With the appropriate therapies, however, the symptoms can be treated and the quality of life of those affected can be significantly improved. Parkinson's disease affects around 20,000 people in Austria.

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  • Basic information: messenger substances as carriers of information
  • How does Parkinson's disease arise?
  • What is the cause of Parkinson's disease?

Basic information: messenger substances as carriers of information

Networks of nerve cells (neurons) communicate with one another continuously in the brain. Only in this way can all the basic functions of the nervous system be fulfilled, such as processing stimuli and sensory impressions or controlling movements and processes of action. Information is passed on as electrical signals within a nerve cell, transferred from one nerve cell to the next and finally passed on to the target organ (e.g. the muscles).

The contact points between the individual nerve cells are called synapses. Messenger substances, so-called neurotransmitters, serve as information carriers between two nerve cells: These are formed in reserve by a nerve cell (the sending neuron) and stored in small vesicles. If a signal is to be transmitted, the vesicles empty and release the messenger substances. These dock on the receptors of the receiving neuron and in this way transmit the signal. A short time after the signal transmission, the synapse is ready to repeat this process and pass on a new stimulus.

The various neurotransmitter systems are essential for the transmission of information within the nervous system to function smoothly. Disturbances within these systems can lead to different clinical symptoms or diseases.

How does Parkinson's disease arise?

In Parkinson's disease, certain nerve cells in the brain that produce the messenger substance dopamine increasingly die. These nerve cells are located in the so-called black substance (substantia nigra) in the midbrain. They are connected to other brain regions by nerve processes, such as the corpus striatum in the basal ganglia, a core area in the depths of the cerebrum. This is where dopamine is stored and released when needed.

Among other things, dopamine is responsible for controlling movements: it helps to transmit electrical impulses from the brain via the nerves to the muscles. All voluntary muscle movements of the body are coordinated via a complex network of nerve processes that branches from the striatum into other parts of the brain. Dopamine also plays a crucial role in motivation and behavior in the brain's reward center.

The destruction of the cells of the substantia nigra and the associated lack of dopamine lead to malfunctions in various brain regions. Other neurotransmitter systems are also affected, including:

  • Cholinergic system (transmitter acetylcholine): is responsible, among other things, for the control of attention and excitability of the brain during the sleeping and waking rhythm and should also play a decisive role for plasticity and learning.
  • Serotonergic system (transmitter serotonin): influences, for example, the sensation of pain, sleep and wakefulness rhythm as well as mood and is considered to be one of the "happiness hormones".

In Parkinson's disease, in addition to various movement disorders, other accompanying symptoms can occur. More on the topic: Parkinson's disease: symptoms.

What is the cause of Parkinson's disease?

The cause of the death of nerve cells in the substantia nigra is still not known. Parkinson's disease is therefore also referred to as idiopathic Parkinson's syndrome (IPS) (idiopathic = without a known cause).

The diagnosis is made in most cases between the ages of 50 and 70. In ten percent of those affected, the diagnosis is made before the age of 40, when Parkinson's disease starts early. If the disease occurs before the age of 21, it is called juvenile Parkinson's disease. Men are affected slightly more often than women.

Parkinson's Syndromes

In addition to Parkinson's disease, there are other syndromes with similar symptoms (atypical Parkinson’s syndromes), which, however, differ in the underlying cause and clinical course. Overall, the following forms are summarized under the term Parkinson’s syndrome:

  • Idiopathic Parkinson's Syndrome (IPS), Parkinson's Disease; approx. 75 percent of all Parkinson's syndromes,
  • genetic or familial forms of Parkinson's syndrome; In about one percent of Parkinson's syndromes, heritable genetic changes can be detected,
  • Parkinson's syndromes in the context of other neurological diseases (e.g. multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy),
  • Secondary Parkinson's syndromes that are triggered by an identifiable cause, such as medication, brain tumors, circulatory disorders in the brain, injuries, toxins (e.g. carbon monoxide, manganese), inflammation or circulatory disorders of the brain, metabolic disorders (e.g. hypoparathyroidism with calcifications in the brain).

Note The doctor can make the distinctions through careful diagnostics. This enables him / her to assess which therapy is best suited in each individual case.

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