Parkinson's is a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disease that causes the destruction of a specific population of neurons, namely dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain. These neurotransmitters are essential for controlling the body's movements and in particular, automatic movements.
It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in France after Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, it is a major cause of disability in elderly patients.
Parkinson's disease is extremely rare before the age of 45. It mainly affects older patients, peaking around the age of 70 with 1% of over-65s suffering from the illness. In total, between 100,000 and 120,000 people are affected in France and approximately 8,000 new cases are reported every year. What's more, the disease is becoming increasingly prevalent due to the ageing population.
Although the exact causes of neurodegeneration are unclear, age has been identified as the main risk factor. Genetic and environmental factors appear to play a part in the gradual loss of dopaminergic neurons.
Parkinson's disease is therefore not generally a hereditary disease, although there is a 5% incidence of genetic forms. In terms of environmental risk factors, a link with early or prolonged exposure to chemical pollutants or pesticides including herbicides and insecticides has been clearly established.
MPTP, a contaminant drug sometimes found in heroin, can suddenly cause a serious and irreversible form of Parkinson's disease. Carbon monoxide or manganese poisoning can also have the same effect.
It is important to note that by the time the symptoms occur, the disease has already progressed 5 to 10 years on average.
Parkinson's disease is diagnosed on the basis of three main motor symptoms. These will not all necessarily occur at the same time and may vary in intensity. They remain asymmetrical for a long period, affecting only one side of the body. The symptoms are:
Other symptoms may also occur depending on the patient:
With the treatments that are currently available, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease quite effectively. Patients can live with Parkinson's for several years.
Although no current treatment is capable of curing Parkinson's disease, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms using drugs and adopting a number of lifestyle-related measures.
Medicinal treatments are available. However, patients should also adapt their lifestyle to improve their quality of life:
Medicines can compensate for patients' dopamine deficiency:
As with any other treatment, strict adherence is essential. Pill dispensers that are appropriate for patients in terms of their shape, capacity, size and ease-of-opening are available from Pilbox, the French brand that has devoted over 20 years to therapeutic observance.
Although knowledge of what causes Parkinson's disease remains limited, advances in research have enabled treatments to be considerably improved over the past two decades. Parkinson's is the most widely studied cerebral syndrome in France, where research on the disease is very active.
One of the major challenges currently facing researchers is to identify ways of detecting the disease early since, as mentioned above, the symptoms only appear when most of the neurons are destroyed. Through earlier diagnosis, it should be possible to eventually slow or even halt the progression of the disease well before the stage at which it is currently detected.
Sources: inserm.fr, passeportsante.net, franceparkinson.fr