The Joan Elizabeth Foundation
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Together. We'll find a cure for Parkinsons & Dystonia.

Joan Elizabeth Foundation

Working to find a cure for Parkinson's and Dystonia

What is Parkinson's, what is Dystonia?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. What this means is that individuals with PD will be living with PD for twenty years or more from the time of diagnosis. While Parkinson’s disease itself is not fatal, the Center for Disease Control rated complications from the disease as the 14th top cause of death in the United States. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s; however, your doctors will be focused and dedicated to finding treatments that help control the symptoms of PD and have a good quality of life.

Normally, there are brain cells (neurons) in the human brain that produce dopamine. These neurons concentrate in a particular area of the brain, called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a chemical that relays messages between the substantia nigra and other parts of the brain to control movements of the human body. Dopamine helps humans to have smooth coordinated muscle movements. When approximately 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear. This process of impairment of brain cells is called neurodegeneration.

The current theory (so-called Braak’s hypothesis) is that the earliest signs of Parkinson’s are found in the enteric nervous system, the medulla and in particular, the olfactory bulb, which controls your sense of smell. Under this theory, Parkinson’s only progresses to the substantia nigra and cortex over the years. This theory is increasingly borne out by evidence that non-motor symptoms, such as a loss of sense of smell, hyposmia, sleep disorders and constipation may precede the motor features of the disease by several years. For this reason, researchers are increasingly focused on these “non-motor” symptoms to both detect PD as early as possible and to look for ways to stop its progression.

What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. The neurological mechanism that makes muscles relax when they are not in use does not function properly. Opposing muscles often contract simultaneously as if they are 'competing' for control of a body part. The involuntary muscle contractions force the body into repetitive and often twisting movements as well as awkward, irregular postures. There are multiple forms of dystonia, and dozens of diseases and conditions include dystonia as a major symptom. Dystonia may affect a single body area or be generalized throughout multiple muscle groups. Dystonia affects men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds. Estimates suggest that no fewer than 300,000 people in North America are affected. Dystonia causes varying degrees of disability and pain, from mild to severe. There is presently no cure, but multiple treatment options exist and scientists around the world are actively pursuing research toward new therapies. Although there are multiple forms of dystonia and the symptoms of these forms may outwardly appear quite different, the element that all forms share is the repetitive, patterned, and often twisting involuntary muscle contractions. Dystonia is a chronic disorder, but the vast majority of dystonias do not impact cognition, intelligence, or shorten a person's life span. The main exception to this is dystonia that occurs as symptom of another disease or condition that can cause such complications. :
* Reference: Parkinson's Foundation 2013. Reference Dystonia Foundation 2013.