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Expat Investor : September October 2009
HEALTHCARE September/October 2009 EXPAT INVESTOR 13 Parkinson's disease is a condition that can seriously affect the life of the sufferer and of those around them; it ranges from being mild to significantly debilitating, and tends to progress over time. It can begin with a slight trembling of the hand and over time cause a person to move slower as the muscles become increasingly stiff and can affect movement such as walking, talking and writing. The disease is triggered by the shortage of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine ensures that other parts of the brain which coordinate movement, perform correctly. Lower levels of this chemical can result in the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Most famously suffered by Mohammed Ali and Michael J Fox, Parkinson's disease causes the body to develop tremors, stiffness, the slowing of movement and reduced mobility, all of which can become worse with time and lead to debilitation. Problems with posture and balance, speech changes, loss of facial expression and small handwriting are also symptoms of Parkinson's. Affecting about one to two people in every 100 over the age of 65, it is a condition that is slightly more common in men than women and develops around the age of 65, although symptoms can become apparent before the age of 40. Doctors don't know why some people get Parkinson's disease and others don't, although inherited factors are thought to play a large role. A family history is more common in early-onset Parkinson's disease. Diagnosis of Parkinson's is often based on symptoms and by the ruling out of other conditions that cause similar symptoms, as there is no single test. A blood test or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan can also help doctors diagnose the condition. Once diagnosed, medication can restore the levels of dopamine in the brain and control symptoms. As symptoms vary from person to person, treatment is relevant to individual needs. In some cases when medicines are no longer helping, a surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, where tiny electric currents stimulate the brain, may be recommended. This, along with physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy can all help towards managing, coping with and reducing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Although at present Parkinson's disease is not curable, most people stay reasonably active and find that their symptoms may not progress further than a slight tremor. Many sufferers can continue to participate in many sports and activities, including swimming, dancing and tennis. However, some find that their symptoms escalate to a point where they may need help with washing, eating and dressing, although with proper and correct treatment and social support, many sufferers are able to maintain normal lifestyles. For more infor mation please visit Bupa Health Factsheet -- http://hcd2.bupa.co.uk/fact_sheets /html/parkinsons_disease.html Pa rkinson's Disease Society -- www.parkinsons.org.uk Damage wreaked by a shortage of dopamine In this regular column on medical conditions, Dr Sneh Khemka, Medical Director, BUPA International, explains Parkinson's disease.