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WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America
WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America

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Parkinson's Disease

Description: Parkinson's disease is a slow, progressive disorder that affects movement, muscle control and balance. It occurs when cells are destroyed in certain parts of the brain, where the cells release dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain). Loss of dopamine is the primary defect in Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms: Tremor, stiffness, slow and difficult movements, and problems with balance and walking. Muscle rigidity often begins in the legs and neck; in the face, muscle rigidity can produce a mask-like, staring appearance. Hand deformities may develop in late stages, causing severe discomfort and limitation.

Number of Americans diagnosed: Between 1 and 1.5 million.

Long-term problems/treatments: Parkinson's disease is not fatal, but it reduces longevity. It also seriously impairs the quality of life and may sometimes lead to severe incapacity within 10 to 20 years. Treatments are increasingly effective in alleviating symptoms and even slowing progression of the disease, although side effects can be nearly as distressing as the disease itself, and the drugs may eventually lose their effectiveness.
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