Nerve cells within the substantial nigra – an area of the brain that controls movement – become impaired and die if a person has Parkinson’s disease. How do you put one foot in front of the other?
As the nerve cells – responsible for creating the hormone dopamine – decrease as Parkinson’s disease progresses, a person’s walk is affected.
Specifically, a person with the disease tends to develop a parkinsonian gait (i.e walk), attested the National Institute of Ageing.
This parkinsonian type of walk consists of a person leaning forward, and taking small quick steps as if hurrying forward.
In addition, there will be reduced swinging of the arms; people may also have trouble initiating or continuing movement.
Scientists are unaware as to what causes the loss of nerve cells, but genetic and environmental factors have been hinted to.
One such environmental factor could include the exposure to toxins in the atmosphere.
People with Parkinson’s also lose the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine is the main chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls autonomic functions of the body.
Examples of autonomic functions include a person’s heart rate and blood pressure.
The loss of this chemical messenger can explain some of the non-movement symptoms associated with the disease.
For example, irregular blood pressure could be a sign of Parkinson’s disease – there may be a drop in blood pressure when a person stands from a sitting position.
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One of the most common signs of the movement disorder is a visible, uncontrollable tremor.
This can happen in the hands, arms, legs, jaw or head; typically beginning on one side of the body, eventually it’ll affect both sides.
Symptoms will worsen over time, so mild tremors may go unnoticed at the beginning.
There is no medical tests to definitely detect the disease, so the condition can be difficult to diagnose accurately.
The condition is harder to diagnosis, especially as a number of disorders can cause similar symptoms.
Those who have Parkinson-like symptoms, from other causes, are said to have “parkinsonism”.
These are distinguished from Parkinson’s (the disease) when certain medical tests highlight the underlying issue.
Diagnosis is based on a person’s medical history and a neurological examination.
Once a diagnosis has been made, certain medicines are prescribed to alleviate symptoms.
One type of drug is used to increase the level of dopamine in the brain, while another could help control non-motor symptoms.
Alternative therapies can help with gait, which can include exercises to strengthen muscles and improve balance.
For more information on Parkinson’s disease, there are a number of charities that can help, such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
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