Q. What is Parkinson’s disease?
A. Parkinson’s disease is a disorder characterized by progressive loss of motor skills. It usually affects people over the age of 50. It results from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Brain requires dopamine (a chemical) for control of normal movements.
Tremors or shaking, stiffness of limbs, slowness of all movements and impaired balance are the major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. As the disease progresses, patients develop difficulty in walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Depression, emotional changes, memory loss, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, urinary problems and constipation are other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Q. How common is Parkinson’s disease?
A. According to an estimate, more than 7000 people from Kolkata and more than 40,000 people of West Bengal are affected by Parkinson’s disease. But unfortunately many of these patients and their family members neglect the symptoms or attribute them to ageing process and hence the disease remains undiagnosed.
Q. My father has Parkinson’s disease. Am I going to inherit the disease?
A. Traditionally Parkinson’s disease was considered a non-genetic disorder. But new research indicates that there is some genetic vulnerability to develop Parkinson’s disease. Those who have first degree relatives (father, mother, brother or sister) suffering from Parkinson’s disease have slightly higher risk of developing the disease as compared to general population. In about 5% cases of Parkinson’s disease, various gene abnormalities have been detected. Such patients may have disease onset in younger age.
Q. What are the risk factors for developing Parkinson’s disease?
A. Primary cause for Parkinson’s disease is yet to be identified but a number of risk factors have been documented. Older people and males are more likely to develop the disease. Exposure to pesticides, drinking deep well water, head trauma and exposure to industrial fumes are other risk factors.
Q. I suspect that I might have Parkinson’s disease. Is there any test for diagnosis ?
A. The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is based on medical history and a good clinical examination. There are currently no laboratory tests available for diagnosis of this disease. In case of any suspicion, one should consult a neurologist experienced in Parkinson’s disease. Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata (INK) conducts a special clinic every Friday for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement related disorders.
Q. Is there any treatment for Parkinson’s disease?
A. Presently there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but some medications provide dramatic relief from the symptoms. Among them, “levodopa” is the best medication available. Nerve cells use levodopa to make dopamine and replenish the brain’s supply of dopamine. In selected patients, brain surgery known as “deep brain stimulation” is very useful where an electrode is implanted to stimulate brain cells. The facility of this surgery will be available in Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata (INK) very soon.