Second Most Common US Disease: What You Should Know About Parkinson's

If you are like me, your knowledge of Parkinson's Disease is limited to the fact that actor Michael J. Fox has it, and since his diagnosis, he has worked tirelessly to create awareness for his condition.

If you are like me, you may or may not have known April is Parkinson's Awareness Month.

What is Parkinson's? According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, Parkinson's can be described as, "A group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells."

In other words, Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease that impacts one's motor skills, amongst other things. Next to Alzheimer's, it is the second most common illness in the United States.

The disease gets its name from Dr. James Parkinson, who first identified the illness. The illness has affected more than 4 million people worldwide, with almost 50,000 new cases each year being diagnosed. One in 20 people under the age of 40 is diagnosed with the illness.

Within those 4 million, there are a handful of celebrities who also suffer from Parkinson's.

"Float like a butterfly sting like a bee" boxer, Muhammad Ali, was 42 years old when he was diagnosed. It has been theorized that his condition came from the numerous blows to the head during his boxing career, though that has yet to be confirmed.

Along with Ali, there is country crooner, Johnny Cash; "Golden Girl," Estelle Getty; "Peanuts" creator, Charles Schulz and Evangelical pastor, Billy Graham.

Then, there is Parkinson's advocate and actor, Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed at age 30. Since his diagnosis, Fox has been very vocal and public with his battle. Upon going public with his condition and leaving his hit show at the time, Fox founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Since it's creation almost 15 years ago, Fox has collected and contributed to the research for the disease. He has done what this month is about: created awareness.

April isn't just about Easter or spring, nor is it about bringing awareness to a disease that affects almost 1.5 million people in the US alone. Though we know the loss of brain cells causes Parkinson's, it is not certain as to why the disease develops in some and not others.

It is known, though, that the likelihood of Parkinson's diagnosis increases with age. Many celebrities who have shared their battles were diagnosed in their early or late 40s.

The designation of a month of awareness is intended to shed light and garner further financial and moral support for those who suffer from the disease.

There is no cure for Parkinson's, but there are various treatments paired with medications that can control the impact of the illness on the body.

Treatments like speech and physiotherapy can help with the symptoms of stiffness and rigidness, which some experience. In some situations, there are operations that can be performed, but is a drastic measure, which the patient should weigh heavily.

Operations are not meant to rid the symptoms of Parkinson's completely, but more so to decrease treatments.

So, what can you do this month to show your support for Parkinson's Awareness Month? Check out local fundraisers and get involved. Whether it is volunteering your time or making a small contribution to the charity, get out and help.

If you or someone you know suffers from Parkinson's Disease, you can be there for that person; be his or her emotional support. Sometimes, that is the greatest thing someone going through a rough patch needs.

Educate yourself. If you are like me, you probably only knew of the disease because of Michael J. Fox or Muhammad Ali. I grew up in a city that neighbored where Fox and his family lived, so I was vaguely aware of his diagnosis and his work to create awareness for Parkinson's.

Now, with Parkinson's Awareness Month, I am educated and understand the severity and importance of awareness.

So, take a moment and check out the American Parkinson's Disease Association, or even Fox's site to see how you can help out this month.