Currently there is no known cause of Parkinson’s or understanding of why some people develop Parkinson’s and not others. This is the reason Parkinson’s is often referred to as “Idiopathic (cause unknown) Parkinson’s”.
There are many theories as to the causes of Parkinson’s and it is generally thought that multiple factors are responsible.
Through research, our understanding of the possible causes of Parkinson’s is increasing all the time. Areas of current research include: ageing, genes, environmental factors, chemical exposure and virus like structures called prions.
GENES AND PARKINSON’S
Genetic or hereditary Parkinson’s where Parkinson’s does seem to be passed on from one generation to the next is rare, current research suggests that 5% of Parkinson’s may have a direct genetic cause.
It is more common that a genetic mutation increases the risk of someone getting Parkinson's rather than directly causing it. However, even when there is a mutation present the chances of going on to develop Parkinson’s is low. We don't know why one person with the mutation will get Parkinson's and another will not, although many believe that environmental and genetic factors interact which may cause Parkinson's.
ENVIRONMENT AND PARKINSON’S
There is some evidence that some toxins in the environment may contribute to dopamine-producing neurons dying, leading to the development of Parkinson’s. In particular, there has been a great deal of speculation about the link between the use of some herbicides and pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s.
There are many other examples of different environmental factors leading to the development of Parkinson’s, but as yet the evidence is inconclusive.
OTHER FACTORS THAT INCREASE THE RISK OF PARKINSON’S
Advancing age, being male and head injuries are potential factors which may increase the risk of Parkinson’s.
Unfortunately, it is generally impossible to determine the cause of Parkinson’s in an individual.
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