About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is form of parkinsonism originally described by James Parkinson: a chronic, slowly progressive disease of the nervous system characterized clinically by the combination of tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and stooped posture, and pathologically by loss of the pigmented nerve cells of the substantia nigra and the presence of Lewy bodies within the affected nerve cells.

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Terms relative to Parkinson’s: 

  • Adrenaline ( also known as epinephrine):
    The hormone of the adrenal gland. It is secreted into the circulation in moments of crisis and stimulates the heart to beat faster and work harder, increases to flow of blood to the muscles, causes an increased alertness of mind, and produces other changes to prepare the body to meet an emergency.
  • Angina pectoris:
    A characteristic pain in the chest felt as a squeezing or pressing behind the breastbone. It arises in the heart muscle usually during some activity and subsides with rest. It is a symptom of coronary arteriosclerosis or arteriosclerotic heart disease. The paid occurs when the heart muscle, as a result of impaired blood flow in the coronary arteries, fails to receive sufficient oxygen to carry on the work it is called on to do. Pains in muscles of the shoulder and chest are sometime confused with angina pectoris.
  • Acetylcholine:
    The chemical messenger released by the cholinergic nerves, such as the vagus nerve.
  • Anticholinergic:
    Adjective alplied to drugs opposing the action or acetylcholine.
  • Antihistamine:
    Term applied to drugs opposing the actions of histamine and commonly used to treat allergic disorders such as hay fever and bronchial asthma.
  • Alpha-tocopheral:
    Chemical name for vitamin E.
  • Athetosis:
    Involuntary movement, which are similar to but slower than chorea; they are usually writhing movements of the hands or feet.
  • Bradykinesia:
    Word meaning slowness of movement (derived from the Greek brady, meaning slow, and kinesis, meaning movement); a cardinal sign of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Benigh essential tremor:
    A condition characterized by tremor of the hands, head, voice, and sometimes parts of the body which often runs in families. It is sometimes called familial tremor, and in the elderly senile tremor. It is sometimes mistaken for Parkinson’s disease although there is no rigidity or bradykinesia.
  • Choline:
    A naturally occurring substance which is a precursor of acetylcholine.
  • Corpus striatum:
    Anatomical term meaning, literally, “the striate body” designating a large mass of gray matter deep in each cerebral hemisphere. Its internal structure and function are not yet well understood. But it is believed essentially to modulate or regulate motor and sensory activities of the brain.
  • Chorea:
    Diagnostic term derived from the Greek choriea, meaning dance. It is applied to a nervous affection marked by excessive motor activity ranging in severity from restlessness, fidgetiness, and twitching to flinging movements, sudden jerks, and spasms; it is sometimes associated with mental agitation. It is popularly known as St. Vitus’ dance.
  • Dopa:
    Chemical short or “nick” name for dihydroxyphenylalamine, an amino acid occurring in animals and plants. It exists in two forms, the L- and the D- forms. Only the L-form occurs in nature.
  • Dopamine:
    Substance derived from DOPA in certain nerve cells. Dopamine functions in the nervous system as a chemical messenger transmitting impulses from one nerve cell to the next. It is deficient in Parkinson’s disease.
  • DOPA decarboxylase:
    Enzyme found in the nervous system and blood vessels. It controls the metabolic of DOPA to dopamine.
  • Decarboxylase inhibitor:
    A drug which inhibits or prevents the action of the enzyme DOPA decarboxylase and thus hinders the conversion of COPA to dopamine.
  • Dyskinesia:
    A general term meaning an abnormal involuntary movement.
  • Dystonia:
    A type of involuntary movement, which is slow, twisting, and associated with forceful muscle contractions or spasms. The painful end-of-dose foot cramp is a common example.
  • Encephalitis:
    Inflammation of the brain (from Greek encephalon, meaning brain, and the suffix itis, meaning inflammation, as in tonsillitis, appendicitis, etc.) usually caused by a virus infection.
  • Encephalitis lethargica:
    A specific kind of encephalitis which occurred in scattered epidemics throughout the world during the period 1916 to 1926: it usually caused somnolence, double vision, trouble swallowing, and drooling in the acute phase, and a special type of parkinsonism in its chronic phase. The disorder was also called von Economo’s encephalitis and epidemic encephalitis.
  • Festination:
    Walking in rapid, short, shuffling steps (from Latin festinare, to hasten).
  • Glaucoma:
    Disorder of the eye characterized by a sustained increase of pressure within the eyeball which can injure the optic nerve and cause impaired vision.
  • Lateropulsion:
    An involuntary stepping or staggering to one side; it occurs as a symptom of inflammation of the inner ear and also of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Lecithin:
    A naturally occurring substance containing phophatidylcholine. It may be taken by mouth for the purpose of providing choline to the nervous system to increase the synthesis of the chemical messenger acetylcholine.
  • Levodopa:
    The international generic name for the medicinal formulation of L-DOPA (L being short for laevo, Latin prefix meaning left). The full chemical name is L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine.
  • Livido reticularis:
    A purplish or bluish mottling of the skin seen usually around the knee and sometimes on the forearm in patients under treatment with the drug amantadine.
  • Micrographia:
    The small handwriting characteristic of many Parkinson patients.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitor:
    A general applied to a group of drugs whose effects are due to their ability to inhibit the function of the enzyme that oxidizes dopamine, adrenaline, and related substances in the body. They enhance the effect of these chemical messengers. Drugs in this group have mainly been used in the treatment of depression.
  • Multiple system atrophy:
    Medical term used to denote a group of disorders sometimes resembling Parkinson’s disease. Various brain systems are affected including mainly the cerebellum.
  • Oculogyria:
    Spasm of eye muscles causing eyes to look upward involuntarily (rarely downward). It has a sudden onset and may last for minutes to hours; it is a characteristic symptom of post-encephalitic parkinsonism following encephalitis lethargica and sometimes occurs as a reaction to certain tranquilizing drugs, but it is never seen in Parkinson’s disease.
  • On-off effect:
    Descriptive term used to refer to sudden changes in the clinical state of Parkinson patients on levodopa therapy.
  • Parkinson’s disease:
    That form of parkinsonism originally described by James Parkinson: a chronic, slowly progressive disease of the nervous system characterized clinically by the combination of tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and stooped posture, and pathologically by loss of the pigmented nerve cells of the substantia nigra and the presence of Lewy bodies within the affected nerve cells.
  • Parkinsonism:
    A clinical state characterized by tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, stooped posture, and shuffling gait. The more common causes of parkinsonism are Parkinson’s disease and a reversible syndrome induced by major tranquilizing drugs.
  • Paralysis agitans:
    The Latin form of the older, popular term “shaking palsy,” which was used to designate Parkinson’s disease in James Parkinson’s time. It is currently the official diagnostic term for Parkinson’s disease of the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases.
  • Phenothiazines: 
    A class of drugs extensively employed in medical practice for various purposes. One group includes anti-histaminic agents (e.g., Phenergan) and anti-Parkinson drugs (e.g.,ethopropazine), and another larger group comprises the major tranquilizers (e.g., chlorpromazine), which can induce a Parkinson-like state.
  • Paradoxical kinesis:
    Sudden, usually brief episodes of marked remission of symptoms of parkinsonism which may last minutes, sometimes hours and rarely several days.
  • Paresthesia (plural: paresthesias):
    Sensations, usually unpleasant, arising spontaneously in a limb or other part of the body, variously experienced as “pins and needles” or a feeling of warmth or coldness (thermal paresthesias).
  • Palilalia:
    A symptom of parkinsonism, especially the post encephalitic form, in which a work or syllable is repeated several to many times and the flow of speech is interrupted.
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy:
    A chronic disorder of the nervous system first described by Steele, Richardson, and Olszewski in 1964. It often mimics Parkinson’s disease.
  • Propulsion:
    Disturbance of gait typical of parkinsonism in which the patient, during walking, steps faster and faster with progressively shorter steps and passes from a walking to a running pase and may fall forward.
  • Rigidity:
    Refers in medical usage to a type of muscular stiffness encountered when examining Parkinson’s patients. It is characterized by a constant, even resistance to passive manipulation of the limbs. It is due to a failure of reciprocal relaxation of the antagonist muscles.
  • Retropulsion:
    Involuntary stepping backward; the reverse of propulsion.
  • Striatum:
    Short for corpus striatum (see above)
  • Substania nigra:
    Anatomical term (from Latin, meaning black substance) referring to darkly pigmented area in the upper brainstem that can be seen on visual inspection of specimens of human and primate brains. Substantia nigra cells contain both pigment granules and large amounts of dopamine.
  • Sleeping sickness:
    Popular term used during the 1920s and 19930s to refer to encephalitis lethargica. (There is another, more commonly known disease limited to Central Africa caused by a parasite transmitted to man and cattle by the bite of the tsetse fly that is also called sleeping sickness.)
  • Seborrhea:
    Increased discharge of the oily secretion sebum from the sebaceous glands of the skin.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis:
    Inflammation of the skin sometimes associated with seborrhea.
  • Solanaceous alkaloids:
    Bitter tasting alkaline substances extracted from plants of the family Solanaceae and including the botanical drugs atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine.
  • Stereotactic surgery:
    Surgical technique for operating deep in the brain without direct visualization and without opening the brain; a long needle-like instrument attached to a frame bolted temporarily to the skull is passed into the brain at angles calculated from anatomical landmarks to bring it to a predetermined target. This technique makes it possible to produce very small lesions deep in the brain with considerable precision and minimal injury to the brain.
  • Shaking palsy: 
    Old popular term which James Parkinson employed to designate the specific disorder we now call Parkinson’s disease.
  • Tremor: 
    A regular rhythmic to-and-fro involuntary movement of small amplitude affecting a limb, the head, or the entire body.
  • Thalamotomy:
    Operation in which a small region of the thalamus is destroyed, usually done by stereo tactic technique. Tremor and rigidity in parkinsonism and other conditions can be relieved by thalamotomy.
  • Thalamus:
    Anatomical term designating a mass of gray matter centrally placed deep in the brain near its base and serving as a major relay station for impulses traveling from the spinal cord and cerebellum to the cerebral cortex.
  • Tryptophan:
    One of the eight “essential” amino acids necessary for human nutrition; It is also the metabolic precursor of serotonin, and important chemical messenger in the corpus straitum.
  • Tyrosine:
    An amino acid occurring in nature and a normal component of the diet. It is a normal precursor in the synthesis of dopamine and adrenalin.
  • Vomiting center:
    Anatomical and physiological term referring to an area of the medulla oblongata in which are located several clusters of nerve cells that act to initiate and coordinate the act of vomiting to expel toxic substances from the stomach.
  • Von Economo’s encephalitis:
    Another name for encephalitis lethargica (see above) honoring the Viennese neurologist Constantin von Economo who was given credit for first recognizing and describing the disorder.