What Causes Parkinson's Disease?
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"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Parkinson disease (PD) is a complex disorder of the central nervous system. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States, after Alzheimer's.

The defining symptoms of PD include tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, and impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing simple tasks. They also may experience depression, difficulty sleeping and other problems.

In the early 1960s, scientists determined that the loss of brain cells was causing PD. The cells that were depleted produced dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle activity. Today, PD is treated with drugs and surgery.

Medications for PD fall into three categories. The first includes drugs that increase the level of dopamine in the brain. The second category affects neurotransmitters in the body to ease some of the symptoms of the disease. The third category includes medications that help control the non-motor symptoms of the disease such as depression.

There are two commonly used surgical treatments for PD: pallidotomy and deep brain stimulation. Because these procedures are invasive, they are usually reserved for severely afflicted Parkinson's patients who do not get adequate relief from medications.

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All rights reserved © 2012 by Fred Cicetti

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