Parkinson's disease is associated with symptoms such as slowing movement, muscle stiffness, muscle tremors, and posture instability. The most common form is called Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease usually takes a creeping course and is still not curable. The right therapy - usually in the form of medication - but the progression of the disease can be stopped and increase the life expectancy of the affected patients significantly. We inform you about the causes and symptoms as well as the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's.
Parkinson's: cause unknown
Parkinson's is one of the most widespread neurological diseases in Germany. It primarily affects older people between the ages of 55 and 65, only about ten percent are younger than 40 years old at diagnosis. With increasing age, the number of persons suffering from Parkinson's disease increases: Of the over-60s in Germany, about one percent is affected, in the over-70s it is already around two percent and in the over-80s three percent.
Parkinson's disease is characterized by the progressive loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine as the disease progresses. Why the nerve cells die is so far unknown. This is why we also speak of idiopathic Parkinson's syndrome (idiopathic = no apparent cause).
Various Parkinson's forms
Idiopathic Parkinson's syndrome is by far the most prevalent form - there is no identifiable cause for about 75 percent of Parkinson's disease. In addition, however, there are some rare Parkinson's forms whose cause is known:
- Familial Parkinson's syndrome: This form of Parkinson's is caused by changes in the genetic material and is therefore inheritable. Often the symptoms occur at a young age, ie under 40 years.
- Secondary (symptomatic) Parkinson's syndrome: This type of Parkinson's can be caused by environmental factors (such as poisons), certain medications (such as neuroleptics) or diseases (eg brain tumors), as well as repeated brain damage (boxer parkinsonism).
- Atypical Parkinson's syndrome: This is a combination of various diseases that, like Parkinson's disease, are caused by a decay of nerve cells in a specific area of the brain - the basal ganglia. In addition to the typical symptoms of Parkinson's sufferers suffer from other complaints. That's why Atypical Parkinson's Syndrome is also referred to as Parkinson's Plus Syndrome.
Key role of dopamine in Parkinson's disease
Dopamine is a messenger that is involved in the brain primarily for the transmission of signals between neurons of importance and thus also in the control of our movements. If too little dopamine is present in the brain, the deficiency leads to the physical limitations typical of Parkinson's disease, such as slowing down movement (bradykinesis).
Due to dopamine deficiency, other messengers such as acetylcholine and glutamate in the brain also gain the upper hand. The imbalance triggers other typical signs such as muscle tremors and rigidity.
Loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells
Dopamine deficiency is triggered by a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. The loss is more pronounced in certain areas of the brain than in other regions: For example, the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the black substance (Substantia nigra) and the nerve cells in the striated body (striatum) are affected.
Both the black matter and the strip body are involved in the control of motion sequences. If too little dopamine is present, the nerve cells in these areas can not be sufficiently excited. As a result, the movements slow down and fine motor movements such as writing are more difficult.