Parkinson’s is defined as a “neurodegenerative” brain disorder. Neurodegenerative means there is a continuous loss of structure or function of neurons (brain cells). Parkinson’s is a very debilitating disease being as it causes many involuntary movements. One of the most common symptoms is tremors that begin in the fingers and hands. A Parkinson’s patient’s hands usually shake when the hands are at rest. Another common symptom is “bradykinesia” which means slowness of movement. Parkinson’s can additionally cause stiffness and rigidity in the arms and legs. Another symptom is postural instability, which is unexplainable falling or instability. Parkinson’s can furthermore affect the ability of patients to control their facial expressions. The question that comes to mind with all of these symptoms is what is happening to the brain cells that makes them to deteriorate and causes a person to lose control of their body?
There are neurons (brain cells) that produce a very important substance in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine aids in controlling different motor skills and emotions. Dopamine is created in the substantia nigra. Substantia nigra is a special area in the brain dedicated to creating and using dopamine to communicate with the muscles of the body. Dopamine allows a person’s movements to appear fluent and natural. Researchers have not yet discovered what causes the diteratoin of the dopamine cells or how it begins. But it is known that once a high enough percentage of the “dopamine-producing cells are damaged, and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear.” The most accepted theory of where Parkinson’s starts is the “Braak’s hypothesis.” The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research explains that in 2003 Heiko Braak M.D. “outlined a Parkinson’s staging system, which describes the regional distribution and progression of protein aggregates in the brain. The same year, Braak theorized that the biological process of Parkinson’s may begin in the periphery before migrating to the brain.” The Braak’s hypothesis claims that Parkinson’s starts in the part of the nervous system that controls sense of smell. Braak believes that the disease spreads to the nigra and cortex over several years and does not start there.
More research is obviously necessary for such a serious disease as Parkinson’s. For right now, most patients are given coping techniques along with medications that help regulate symptoms instead of the actual disease itself. The disease however, is not what kills people, but the symptoms the disease causes such as being unable to control one’s body. Involuntary overuse of muscles causes the body to weaken and lowers life expectancy significantly.