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Ali and Awareness: What is Parkinson’s Disease?

The recent passing of one of the most prolific sportsmen and activists of our time, Muhammad Ali, has brought to light the struggle people with Parkinson’s face on a daily basis. Ali’s long battle with the disease has inspired millions, not just the individuals who suffer with it, but friends and relatives of those affected as well. 

At such times it is important to raise awareness of these conditions so that we can all be more conscious and compassionate. 

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition, caused by the loss of cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which is responsible for producing the chemical dopamine. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by the brain that plays a key function in a number of areas within the body such as: 

pleasurable reward
behaviour and cognition
inhibition of prolactin production

Research suggests Parkinson's sufferers may also lack other important brain chemicals including serotonin (linked to mood), noradrenaline (linked to blood pressure control) and acetylcholine (linked to mental state).

Who is affected by Parkinson’s?

An estimated 7 to 10 million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s. 

In the UK, around 120,000 people suffer from the disease, which averages out to about 1 in every 500. 

Typically, Parkinson’s will present itself in people aged 50 and over, although younger people can get it too. 

For some people, there may be a genetic or hereditary element. Those with a family history are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s before the age of 50, and men are one and a half times more likely to be sufferers than women. 

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s?

As a result of the lack of dopamine, less signals get transmitted to the area of the brain that controls movement in the body (striatum), this is what causes the most notable symptoms of the disease; a persistent tremor, unsteadiness while standing and rigidity of movement. 

However, it is important to note that although these indicators are the most common, everyone with Parkinson’s has different symptoms, which can include: 

expressionless face
reduced manual dexterity
sleep problems
bladder symptoms
freezing episodes
mental and cognitive changes

The speed at which the disease progresses can also vary from person to person. As symptoms become more acute, more care and support may be required. 

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease and as a result there is no cure. However, there are various different treatments available, ranging from surgery and dopamine replacement drugs to alternative therapies. Further information on the various therapies available to sufferers can be found here

Getting Diagnosed

Getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s can be difficult, as there is no specific laboratory test for the disease. If you are experiencing symptoms it is important that you see a specialist as soon as possible. The specialist will examine you for any physical signs of Parkinson's and take a detailed history of the symptoms you are experiencing in order to make a definitive diagnosis. Occasionally, the specialist may take a scan of your brain in order to rule out any other conditions. 

Support and Care

If you, or a loved one has Parkinson’s or is going through the diagnosis process, there is support at hand to help yourself and your family during this time. From helplines and support groups to local advisors and online forums, there are a number of ways to make sure you get the help and care you need. For more information on these services please click here.

To find out how you can become involved in supporting those who suffer with Parkinson’s, visit the Parkinson’s UK website.

To get in touch with one of our consultants regarding roles within the healthcare sector, send us an email at

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