Parkinson’s Disease

Overview

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects the nervous system and causes problems with muscle movement. Normally, nerve cells that make a chemical called dopamine send signals to help coordinate your movements. In people who have Parkinson’s disease, these cells die or do not work properly. The disease’s effects get worse over time. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

People who have Parkinson’s disease have problems with muscle movement. These problems may include the following:

Other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include nightmares, depression, extra saliva, speech problems, and difficulty walking, buttoning clothes, or cutting food.

  • Tremor (shaking or trembling) of the hands, arms, legs, jaw, or face: Tremors caused by Parkinson’s may be barely noticeable at first, then get worse over time. Tremors also tend to get worse when the person is at rest and better when the person moves. The tremor may affect one side of the body more than the other. A tremor in the hand or arm may cause the person’s handwriting to look "shaky" and smaller than usual.

  • Slowed movements: Over time, a person who has Parkinson’s may begin to move slowly and take a long time to perform simple tasks, such as getting out of a chair.

  • Stiff muscles (also called rigidity): Over time, muscles in the body may contract and become stiff, which makes it hard to move them.

  • Posture and balance problems: Parkinson’s disease can make it hard for a person to stand or sit up straight. It can also cause balance problems when sitting, standing, or walking, which can lead to falls.

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes Parkinson’s disease?

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Parkinson’s disease. In a small number of people, genetics seem to play a role. These people have either inherited the genes for Parkinson’s disease from a family member, or have a gene mutation. Environmental factors may also play a role. For example, long-term exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides, may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is small.

Treatment

Can medicines treat Parkinson’s disease?

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But medicines can help control the symptoms of the disease, often with very good results. The most common medicine used to treat Parkinson’s disease is carbidopa-levodopa, which helps increase the amount of dopamine in your brain. Other medicines, such as dopamine agonists, medicines that inhibit certain chemicals in your brain, anticholinergics, and amantadine are also available. Your doctor will recommend the best treatment for you.

In addition to medicine, your doctor may also recommend exercise or physical therapy. In some cases, surgery can also help relieve symptoms.

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Can Parkinson’s disease be prevented?

  • Could Parkinson’s disease be a sign of another condition?

  • Does Parkinson’s disease run in families? Am I at risk?

  • Can Parkinson’s disease be cured?

  • What types of medicines treat Parkinson’s disease, and are there side effects?