Parkinson disease causes certain brain cells to die. These are the cells that help control movement and coordination. The disease leads to shaking (tremors) and trouble walking and moving.
Paralysis agitans; Shaking palsy
Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. With Parkinson disease, the brain cells that make dopamine slowly die. Without dopamine, the cells that control movement cannot send messages to the muscles. This makes it hard to control the muscles. Slowly, over time, this damage gets worse. No one knows what causes these brain cells to waste away.
Parkinson disease most often develops after age 50. It is one of the most common nervous system problems in older adults.
The disease tends to affect men more than women, although women also get the disease. Parkinson disease sometimes runs in families.
The disease can occur in younger adults. In such cases, it is often due to the person's genes.
Your health care provider may be able to diagnose Parkinson disease based on your symptoms and a physical exam. But the symptoms can be hard to pin down, particularly in older adults. Symptoms are easier to recognize as the illness gets worse.
Tell your doctor right away if you have these side effects. Never change or stop taking any medicines without talking with your doctor. Work with your doctors and other providers to find a treatment plan that works for you.
As the disease gets worse, symptoms such as stooped posture, frozen movements, and speech problems may not respond to the medicines.
Surgery may be an option for some people. Surgery does not cure Parkinson disease, but it may help ease symptoms. Types of surgery include:
Deep brain stimulation. This involves placing electric stimulators in areas of the brain that control movement.
Surgery to destroy brain tissue that causes Parkinson symptoms.
Stem cell transplant and other procedures are being studied.
If you take medicines for Parkinson disease, tell your health care provider about any side effects, which may include:
Changes in alertness, behavior, or mood
Loss of mental functions
Nausea and vomiting
Severe confusion or disorientation
Also call your health care provider if the condition gets worse and home care is no longer possible.
American Parkinson Disease Association. Be independent: a guide for people with Parkinson disease. Staten Island, NY: American Parkinson Disease Association, Inc. 2009. Accessed July 27, 2014.
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Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 71.
Zesiewicz TA, Sullivan KL, Arnulf I, et al. Practice parameter: treatment of nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson disease: report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2010;74:924-931.
Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.