Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder. PD is characterized by:

  • Causes

    PD is caused by a loss of certain nerve cells in the brain. The loss of these cells causes a decrease in the amount of a brain chemical called dopamine. Low dopamine levels cause PD symptoms.

    The brain cells may be lost because of genetic defects, the environment, or some combination of the two. A small amount of people with PD have an early-onset form. This type is caused by an inherited gene defect.

  • Definition

    Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder. PD is characterized by:

    • Slowing down of movements (bradykinesia)
    • Tremor at rest
    • Muscle rigidity
    • Loss of reflexes that maintain posture and equilibrium
    Part of the Brain Affected by PD—Yellow Section
    Substansia Nigra
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. There are no tests to definitively diagnose PD. The doctor will ask many questions. This will help to rule out other causes of your symptoms.

    Tests to rule out other conditions may include:

    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests

    Imaging tests take pictures of internal bodily structures. This can be done with:

    • CT scan
    • MRI
    • PET scan
    • A special kind of PET scan called a DAT scan may be used in the evaluation of PD

  • Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent PD.

  • Risk Factors

    PD is more common in men and in people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that increase your chance of PD include:

    • Family members with PD
    • Nonsmokers

    • Exposure to toxins, such as insecticides,
      carbon monoxide
      , or manganese
    • Certain medications, such as antipsychotics, antiseizures, antiemetics, or cardiovascular medications

    • Certain health conditions, such as:

      • Polio
      • High cholesterol
      • Melanoma
      • Hydrocephalus
      • Brain tumors
      • Stroke
      • Encephalitis
      • Meningitis
      • AIDS
    • IV drug use

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of PD begin mildly. They will worsen over time.

    PD may cause:

    • Problems with dexterity
    • Difficulty with activities of daily living
    • Fatigue
    • Stiffness and rigidity of muscles, usually beginning on one side of the body
    • Tremors are present at rest, improve with movement, and are absent during sleep
    • Slowness of purposeful movements

    • Neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as:

      • Depression
      • Anxiety
      • Dementia
      • Hallucinations
    • Difficulty and shuffling when walking
    • Poor balance
    • Tendency to fall
    • Loss of smell
    • Sleep problems
    • Flat, monotonous voice
    • Stuttering
    • Trouble speaking (often speaking with a low volume)
    • Increasingly mask-like face, with little variation in expression
    • Drooling and excessive salivation
    • Shaky, spidery, or small handwriting
    • Seborrhea (a skin problem that causes a red rash and white scales)
    • Trouble chewing and swallowing
    • Urinary symptoms (frequency and urgency)
    • Bowel movement symptoms (straining, constipation)

  • Treatment

    Currently, there are no treatments to cure PD. There are also no proven treatments to slow or stop its progression. Some medications may help to improve symptoms. Over time, the side effects of the medication may become troublesome. The medications may also lose their effectiveness.