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Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 00:26 GMT 01:26 UK
Parkinson's disease breakthrough
Hands
Parkinson's disease can cause muscle tremors
Scientists believe they are closer to understanding how Parkinson's disease affects the body - a breakthrough they say could help to identify a cure.

Parkinson's disease is generally regarded as a brain disorder.

It is a progressive disease which attacks the part of the brain which controls movement.

But research carried out by scientists in the US suggests that it can also affect other parts of the body.

Research by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggests the disease also affects nerve endings in the heart.

The scientists' findings could go some way to explaining why Parkinson's disease patients experience a sharp fall in blood pressure when they stand up.

This often causes dizziness, light-headedness and fainting. Other symptoms of the disease include stiffness, tremor and increasing loss of mobility.

Doctors had previously suspected that dizziness could be a side-effect of some of the drugs used to treat Parkinson's. But the US researchers have ruled this out.

Instead, they suggest that their findings indicate that the disease may be caused by an abnormality that affects the body's nervous system as well as the brain.

The scientists are now working on a further study to see if the disease has similar effects on other body organs.

Cure

Dr David Goldstein, head of the clinical neurocardiology section at NINDS who led the study, said the results could affect the way the disease is treated and eventually provide an answer for what causes it.

Parkinson's disease usually affects people between the ages of 50 and 60 although it can also strike younger people.

The main current treatment for the disease is drugs but their success is limited and the side-effects can be significant.

There is no cure and treatments only last a few years.

The symptoms are caused by the loss of cells in a certain part of the brain that produce dopamine - an important message-carrying chemical or neurotransmitter linked with movement.

But no one has been able to find out why those cells get destroyed in the first place.

Around 120,000 people in the UK have Parkinson's disease.

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