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What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic neurologic condition named after Dr. James Parkinson, who first described the syndrome in 1817. PD is a slowly progressive disease, which causes a gradual loss of the nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Because dopamine carries signals to the part of the brain that control movement and coordination, decreased dopamine levels lead to the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease:

  • Rest tremor
  • Generalized slowness (bradykinesia)
  • Stiffness of the limbs (cogwheel rigidity)

Other motor manifestations of Parkinson's disease may include small handwriting, decreased facial expression, soft speech, and difficulty swallowing. As the disease progresses, postural instability develops, resulting in a slow, imbalanced shuffling gait, which can result in falls.

Because other parts of the brain and other neurotransmitters (other than dopamine) can be affected in Parkinson's disease, other symptoms can occur. These can include lightheadedness, constipation, dementia, depression, and sleep disturbance.

Every patient is different and may not experience all of the above symptoms.

How Many People Suffer from Parkinson's Disease?

While there is no definitive answer to this question, it is estimated that at least one million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson's disease, and roughly six million worldwide. Parkinson's disease is second only to Alzheimer's disease as the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease.

When Do People Get Parkinson's Disease?

The mean age of onset of PD is 60, though signs of parkinsonism can appear much earlier, and 5-10% of patients are diagnosed under the age of 40. The risk of developing Parkinson's disease increases with age.

What is the Treatment for Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease can be effectively managed with medication, lifestyle choices, and, in some cases, surgery.

Since motor symptoms of PD are caused by decreased dopamine levels in the brain, most medications are aimed at replenishing or mimicking the action of dopamine, and can be very effective in controlling the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Other types of medications are used to treat the non-motor symptoms.

Patients benefit from taking an active role in their healthcare. Daily exercise, proper diet and cognitive stimulation are very important aspects in the treatment regimen. In addition, taking steps to maintain mental well-being results in more effective management of the disease.

For more advanced patients, surgical placement of a deep brain simulator can be useful.

All patients should discuss their treatment options with their physician or a neurologist specializing in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

Is There a Cure for Parkinson's Disease?

At this time, there is no known cause, cure, or prevention for Parkinson's disease. PFNCA supports ongoing research into new medications and treatment options for those affected by Parkinson's disease.