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Health Topic: Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's Awareness Week is taking place between 11th April and 17th April. In addition to trying to help people to understand more about this illness generally, the aim of this week is particularly to highlight the care and support services that are available.

The information below is crown copyright material and has been reproduced from the NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia


Parkinson's disease is a progressive, neurological condition which affects about 120,000 people in the UK. Symptoms usually appear in people over 50 years and the risk of having the condition increases with age. However, younger people can also have Parkinson's disease, of the 10,000 people diagnosed each year in the UK, one in 20 will be aged under 40 years. Parkinson's disease occurring between the ages of 21 and 40 years is known as young-onset Parkinson's disease.

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There are three main symptoms of Parkinson's disease:

Tremor - which usually begins in one hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the affected part of the body is at rest and decrease when it is being used. Stress can make the tremor more noticeable. However the presence of tremor does not necessarily mean a person has Parkinson's disease, as there are several other types and causes of tremor. Also, although most people associate Parkinson's disease with tremor, up to 30% of people with Parkinson's disease do not have this symptom.

Muscular rigidity or stiffness - people with Parkinson's disease often have problems with turning round, getting out of a chair, rolling over in bed, stooped posture, and making fine finger movements, facial expressions and body language.

Bradykinesia (slowness of movement) - movements can become difficult to initiate (start), take longer to perform and lack co-ordination

Other symptoms can include tiredness, depression, and difficulties with handwriting, speech, and balance.

The symptoms usually begin slowly, develop gradually, and in no particular order. Parkinson's is a very individual condition and each person will have a different collection of symptoms and response to treatment. The rate at which the condition progresses, the nature and severity of symptoms is also varies in each individual.

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Parkinson's disease results from the loss of dopamine, a neurotransmitter (or chemical messenger) produced in the part of the brain that controls movement. When 60-80% of the dopamine cells have been lost, the symptoms appear. Why this happens is currently unknown. Genetics and environmental factors are amongst the areas of research currently being investigated.

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There are no tests that can definitely prove that someone has Parkinson's disease so doctors usually base their diagnosis on medical history and a clinical examination of the person. The symptoms can have other causes so laboratory tests and scans may be carried out to rule these out.

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At present there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but there are a range of treatments available to help control the symptoms and maintain quality of life. Drugs are the main treatment. There are several types available which either increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain, stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works, or block the action of other chemicals that affect dopamine. The drugs may be used on their own or in combination. They have to be prescribed to suit individual needs, in terms of type of drug prescribed, dose and times of the day taken. Regular reviews are needed as Parkinson's disease progresses and needs change.

Surgical techniques are also sometimes used to treat people who have had Parkinson's disease for many years, but these are not suitable for everyone.

Therapies such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy and self-help strategies can also play an important role in the management of Parkinson's disease.

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National Support Services

Parkinson's Disease Society

215 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London. SW1V 1EJ

Helpline 0808 800 0303

Visit the website

General information, help and advice for people with Parkinson's their families/carers.

YAPP&Rs (Young Alert Parkinson's Partners & Relatives)

Visit the website

Subsidiary body within the Parkinson's Disease Society with the specific aim of representing all young onset people, families and carers. Main goals are to foster mutual support for all young people with Parkinson's disease by offering opportunities to share information, communicate with each other and offer support, meet on regular basis through local groups. They can be contacted through completing the form on the website.

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Local Support Services

Parkinson's Disease Society - Cheltenham Branch

Tel: 01452 616 805
Contact: Mrs Audrey Pound

Branch meetings at Prestbury Road Day Centre, Cheltenham on last Tuesday of the month 7.30 to 10.00pm. Short business session followed by guest speaker, tea, coffee, biscuits and a chat.

Cirencester & Stroud Parkinson's Disease Support Group

Tel 01285 760 745
Contact: Ray Percival

Cirencester meetings on third Monday of each month from 2.00 to 4.00pm at Cirencester Parish Centre, Gosditch Street.

Forest of Dean, Gloucester, Tewkesbury

Tel 01249 816 189
Contact: Mary Waters
No details known regarding meeting times.

All of the above local support groups can be contacted through the Parkinson's Disease Society.

Cheltenham-Severnside Yapp&Rs

Tel 01242 236 729

Contact: Mrs Sandie Halton
visit the website

Milton Men

Kassala, France Lynch
Stroud, Glos GL6 8LX

Contact: Ken Williams

Small club of retired men who are interested in playing skilled indoor games, e.g. chess, bridge, cribbage, solo, darts, canasta, draughts, billiards, snooker. Meeting every Tuesday at 2.00 at France Lynch Church Rooms. Not specifically for people with parkinson's disease. However several members are disabled in some way by arthritis, heart problems, Parkinson's disease etc.

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