Parkinson’s disease and dystonia
Parkinson's disease is a neurological movement disorder with a wide range of symptoms including slowness of movement, rigidity of muscles, memory impairment and others. Both Parkinson’s disease and dystonia can arise in the same person because they seem to originate in the same part of the brain: the basal ganglia. Sometimes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease (parkinsonism) arise together with dystonia due to a genetic defect as in the rare condition, x-linked dystonia parkinsonism.
However, the most common cause of dystonia in Parkinson’s patients is a secondary dystonia arising from the effect of treating Parkinson’s disease using the medication, Levodopa.
Levodopa is a chemical that converts into dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. It is a shortage of dopamine that causes Parkinson’s and dopamine is also thought to play a role in dystonia although what exactly this role is has yet to be fully clarified. Curiously, dystonia is caused both when the effect of Levodopa is too strong and too weak. Off-period dystonia occurs when the effect is the Levodopa is wearing off and the symptoms include postural changes in the hands and feet and also in the neck. On-period dystonia happens when levodopa is at its most effective.
It is thought around a third of those on medication for Parkinson’s disease experience dystonia. As levodopa is so frequently used in treatment this will amount to many thousands of people. However, these conditions are so frequent that most doctors think of them as part of Parkinson's disease and they are not included in the Dystonia Society’s estimate of 70,000 people with dystonia.
Last reviewed March 2012
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