Woman with Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson’s owes its name to an English surgeon called James Parkinson, who published an article in 1817 describing the symptoms of the condition. He first called the condition 'shaking palsy' but years later it was renamed Parkinson’s disease. It is still not entirely clear how the condition comes about, but what we know is that the symptoms are caused by a lack of dopamine, which is an important brain chemical.

It is thought Parkinson’s occurs when people have a certain genetic predisposition and they are exposed to some external environmental factor, like pesticides, that triggers the disease. When this happens, dopamine-producing cells in the brain start to fail. These type of brain cells, called dopaminergic neurons are important for the movements we make at will and some of the things we do without realising, like blinking or smiling.

Some other areas of the brain influenced by dopamine are also responsible for our moods, the quality of our sleep, the way we feel about ourselves, our behaviour, our ability to concentrate and to learn new things. When dopaminergic neurons fail, it can also affect other bodily functions such as how much we sweat, how fast our bowels move, how often we need to urinate, as well as other things like our blood pressure and our desire to have sex.