What is Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic motor system disorder. Parkinson’s is a slowly progressive disease that affects a small area of nerve cells in a portion of the brain that controls muscle movements. In a normal brain, some nerve cells produce the chemical dopamine, which transmits signals within the brain to produce smooth movement of muscles. In Parkinson’s patients, 80 percent or more of these dopamine-producing cells are damaged, dead or otherwise degenerated. This causes the nerve cells to fire randomly, leaving patients unable to control their movements.
Symptoms usually show up in one or more of four ways: 1) resting tremor on one or both sides of the body, 2) generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia), 3) stiffness of limbs (rigidity) and 4) gait or balance problems (postural dysfunction). Persons with Parkinson’s may not experience all of these symptoms, but any combination of these classic signs may be used to diagnose the condition.
There is no known prevention or cure for the disease. Also, there is no definitive lab test or brain scan to verify the clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
An estimated 1.5 million Americans are affected with Parkinson’s. As many as 50,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. One percent of the population over 60 is affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Slightly more men than women are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but the chances appear to be almost even.
Persons with Parkinson’s disease are generally treated with medications, but certain surgical interventions are performed or investigated. The primary drug used to treat (and diagnose) Parkinson’s was levodopa, but the side effects and limitations have led to newer medications that generally supplement, or in some cases, substitute for levodopa.
For more information, please visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.