DOCTOR CALLING: By Dr Kevin Hill

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Diagnosing and living with Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years.

It is thought that around one-in-500 people are affected by the disease, which means there are an estimated 127,000 people in the UK with the condition.

The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:

* tremor (involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body)

* slow movement

* stiff and inflexible muscles

A person with Parkinson’s disease can also experience a wide range of other physical and psychological symptoms, including depression, problems sleeping, loss of sense of smell and memory problems.

Dr Kevin Hill said: “Anyone who is concerned that they may have symptoms of Parkinson’s disease should go to see their GP. The GP will ask about the problems experienced and may refer you to a specialist for tests.

“There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, although a wide range of treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain the patient’s quality of life for as long as possible. Advances in treatment mean most people with Parkinson’s disease now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy. ”

Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain which leads to a reduction in the amount of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body and a reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Exactly what causes the loss of nerve cells is unclear. Most experts think that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible.

Most people with Parkinson’s start to develop symptoms when they are over 50, although around one-in-20 people with the condition first experience them under the age of 40. Men are more likely to get it than women.

Patients may not need any treatment during the early stages of the disease as symptoms are usually mild. However, it may be necessary to attend regular appointments with the specialist so that the condition can be monitored.

As the condition progresses, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can get worse and it can become increasingly difficult to carry out everyday activities without assistance.

Some people respond well to treatment and only experience mild to moderate disability, whereas others eventually become severely disabled.

Parkinson’s disease does not directly cause people to die, but the condition can place great strain on the body and can make some people more vulnerable to serious and life-threatening infections.