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What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disease of the central nervous system. Parkinson’s begins when certain nerve cells in the brain – called neurons – begin to die. Some of these cells produce a chemical called dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, causing stiffness, slowness, tremor and difficulty walking.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease, meaning that symptoms will worsen over time. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Medicines can help control symptoms but do not slow the progression of the disease. Recent evidence suggests that certain kinds of exercise (intense “forced” exercise) may be protect your neurons and slow the disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Parkinson’s may include:

  • Stiffness or rigidity of the muscles
  • Difficulties with balance and coordination
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Difficulties with speech and writing
  • Mood disorders
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Constipation
  • Loss of smell

When to See a Doctor

You should contact your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Many symptoms may also indicate other neurological conditions that may need immediate treatment.

Causes

The causes of Parkinson’s disease are not well understood. Approximately 15% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a family history of this disorder.

Diagnosis and Tests

Currently, there is no one diagnostic test (such as a blood test or an x-ray) to diagnose Parkinson’s. Instead, your physician will perform a neurological evaluation. During this exam, the doctor will rule out other medical conditions that mimic the appearance of Parkinson’s.

Treatments

There is no cure for Parkinson’s. There are medicines available that can help manage many of the symptoms.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure used to treat Parkinson symptoms such as tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement, and walking problems. DBS is used when medicines cause side effects or do not last long enough between doses.

Other treatment options may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Speech & language therapy
  • Occupational therapy

Prevention

Currently, there is no proven way to prevent Parkinson’s disease.