What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder (relating to the nervous system) that affects the brain. It is progressive (gradually gets worse over time), and it happens when the cells that produce the brain chemical, dopamine, start to die off. Dopamine plays a key role in a number of our daily functions including movement, balance, memory, and cognition. After enough of these dopamine-producing cells die, the affected person starts to lose the ability to perform many of these functions.
Parkinson's in Africa
Parkinson's is the second most common neurological disorder (after Alzheimer's) in the world, but it is the fastest growing. The epidemiology (the study of a disease in populations) of Parkinson's disease in Africa is not well understood. There have not been enough studies conducted that explain the incidence, prevalence, and genetic risk factors of the disease across Africa. Also unclear is the role ethnicity plays in the presentation of Parkinson's symptoms, but a limited number of studies indicate that it does have an impact, particularly in non-motor symptoms.
Please click the button below to learn more about these studies and other studies pertaining to Parkinson's disease in Africa.
Symptoms of Parkinson's
Parkinson's disease has many different symptoms but the four main symptoms are tremors, rigidity (stiffness), bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and postural instability (imbalance).
Some additional symptoms are listed below but it is important to note that everyone's experience with Parkinson's symptoms is different, both in terms of the number of symptoms experienced and the impact of these symptoms.
Everyone's experience is different
Other symptoms include apathy (reduced interest in doing things), depression, anxiety, pain, micrographia (when your handwriting gets smaller), reduced sense of smell, sleep problems, orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing), drooling, swallowing problems, hypomimia (reduced facial expression), trouble remembering things and cognitive difficulties.
As Parkinson's progresses, some people also experience hallucinations and/or develop dementia.
What causes Parkinson's?
While it is clearly understood that in Parkinson's disease, the nerve cells that produce dopamine become damaged or die; it remains unclear why this degeneration occurs in the first place. However, as scientists continue to research this area, they are seeing a link between both genetic (gene mutations) and environmental factors (like exposure to toxic chemicals), and the development of Parkinson's.
Who is likely to develop Parkinson's?
The biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson's is age. Most of the people who get it are aged 60 or over, however anyone, male or female, including younger people, can develop Parkinson's.
Treatment for Parkinson's
There is currently no known cure for Parkinson's but there are different options to manage and treat its symptoms. You and your doctor are in the best position to decide on the most effective treatment plan.
The most common class of medication used to treat Parkinson's is called levodopa - a dopamine-replacement therapy. It was first approved by the US Food & Drug Administration in 1970 and, till date, remains the "gold standard" treatment for Parkinson's disease.
Other classes of medication include Dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, COM-inhibitors, Amantadine, and Anticholinergics.
Not all of these drugs are available across the continent of Africa and the few medication studies conducted indicate that (particularly in rural areas), these drugs are largely inaccessible and unaffordable.
Multidisciplinary Care Approach
Parkinson's affects different parts and functions of the body such as speech, cognition, movement, and sleep. Different health professionals specialise in the management of these functions; it is therefore beneficial (where possible) to have a multidisciplinary team of specialists help manage your Parkinson's symptoms.
As with medication, we understand that many of these specialists are not available, accessible, or affordable in many parts of Africa. Parkinson's Africa is working hard to highlight and address these issues, and to find helpful and practical alternatives.
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