Parkinson's disease is a progressive, chronic illness that affects the brain. It causes people to have tremors, meaning certain parts of their body shake involuntarily, to move more slowly, and to develop inflexible, stiff muscles. It is also common for people with this disease to develop depression, balance problems, anosmis (loss of sense of scent), insomnia, and memory problems. The illness affects an estimated 1 in 500 people and it usually starts in people over 50. It has been found to be more prevalent in men than women. But what causes Parkinson's disease and how is it treated?

Understanding What Causes Parkinson's Disease and How Is It Treated:

The cause of the disease is nerve cell loss in the substantia nigra part of the brain. These cells create dopamine, which is necessary for controlling and coordinating movement. The reduction of dopamine leads to slowness and involuntary movement. Usually, by the time the disease becomes symptomatic, around 80% of the substantia nigra nerve cells have been lost.

To really understand what causes Parkinson's disease and how is it treated, you also have to know why nerve cells get lost first. Unfortunately, much research still need to be done, although it is believed that environmental factors and genetics have a part to play. The disease commonly runs in families, although certain herbicides and industrial pollution may also be contributing factors. Meanwhile, Parkinsonism (the development of symptoms associated with Parkinson's) is associated with medication, cerebrovascular disease, and other progressive brain conditions.

In terms of treatment, there is, unfortunately, no cure for the disease. One of the reasons for this is that, by the time it is diagnosed, so many of the brain cells have already died. Researchers are currently looking into early detection methods in the hope that, if caught early enough, progression of the disease can be stopped or slowed down. Once people are diagnosed, however, they can receive treatment to improve their quality of life. Those treatments include:

1. Therapy

Physiotherapy is designed to help reduce the muscle stiffness. Through exercise and manipulation, flexibility can be increased and patients can walk safely again. Physiotherapy is mainly designed to increase comfort and to ensure that patients can remain independent. Often, physiotherapy is offered in partnership with an occupational therapist, who will determine what changes can be made in a person's home and/or work environment to make it safer and more comfortable. Lastly, speech and language therapy may also be offered to combat dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and speech difficulties.

2. Medication

The most common medication offered includes levodopa, monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors, and dopamine antagonists. Unfortunately, medication does often come with unwelcome side effects.

3. Surgery

This is only offered to some patients. The surgery that is often recommended is deep brain surgery, which is best compared to a pacemaker for the brain. Unsurprisingly, this is a very risky procedure, and therefore only offered to a select group of people. Also, it is still in the experimental stage.

4. Diet advice

It is known that some dietary changes can lead to improvement in Parkinson's symptoms. This includes consuming more fiber and more salt, as well as ensuring that patients do not lose weight.