Does Fidel Castro Have Parkinson's Disease?

November 21, 2005

The Miami Herald, Associated Press and other news agencies have reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes that Cuban President Fidel Castro has Parkinson's disease. Castro's slow, stiff movements led the CIA to conclude that Castro has Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease afflicts approximately 1 million to 1.5 million people in the U.S., most of whom are 60 years old or older. The disorder is seen in people of all ethnic groups and among men and women in equal numbers. There is no known cause and no cure, just treatments to help control the symptoms of trembling arms and legs, trouble speaking, and difficulty coordinating movement. Parkinson's disease occurs when neurons degenerate (lose the ability to function normally) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Many of the neurons that degenerate contain the neurotransmitter called dopamine. As these neurons degenerate, dopamine levels fall, and the balance between dopamine and other neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, is thrown off. This neurotransmitter imbalance leads to movement problems.

Cuban officials deny that Castro has any health problems. Castro's slow, stiff movements may just be signs of old age or from the effects of a broken knee and arm he suffered in a fall last year.

Regardless of the controversial diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, Castro's health will be watched carefully by people around the world.

Further information about Parkinson's disease::

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