Parkinson’s disease: What you need to know in wake of Jesse Jackson’s diagnosis

Iconic American civil rights activist, politician and minister Jesse Jackson announced Friday that his doctors have diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease – a diagnosis that he says comes after several years of symptoms.

Below are answers to some of the more common questions about this disease.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder globally, after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting more than 1 million people in North America. It was originally described by English surgeon James Parkinson in 1817. While the precise causes of this condition remain unknown, the disease is characterized by abnormalities in a specific region of the brain called the substantia nigra, and it results in decreased signaling of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This imbalance leads to the hallmark symptoms of this condition — abnormal movements, such as a characteristic hand tremor, slow movements, muscle stiffening, and a decreased ability of the body’s reflexes to appropriately adjust to changes in posture. Psychiatric symptoms often include anxiety and depression. Other characteristic symptoms include walking in short, shuffling steps and decreased facial expressiveness, called “masked facies.”

Who is affected by this condition?

There are an estimated 7.5 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s, and the risk of developing it increases with age. Approximately 41 per 100,000 persons aged 40 to 49 years has Parkinson’s, compared to an estimated 1,900 per 100,000 persons over the age of 79.

What are the risk factors for Parkinson’s?

Aside from older age, the most well-established risk factor for developing Parkinson’s is having a family member who has been diagnosed with this disease, as was the case with Jackson. Men are also 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women. Several large studies have also found a correlation between depression and the development of Parkinson’s, though it is unknown if depression plays a causative role in the development of Parkinson’s, or if it is instead an early symptom. Other possible risk factors include exposure to certain types of pesticides and high consumption of dairy products.

How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

Parkinson’s is diagnosed based on a patient’s clinical history and physical exam. Diagnosis is made by the when a person has Parkinsonian symptoms without any other explanation, such as another neurological disease,…

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