Parkinson's disease causes certain brain cells to die. They 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's disease, the brains cells that make dopamine slowly die. Without dopamine, the cells that control movement can’t send messages to the muscles. This makes it hard to control your muscles. Slowly over time, this damage gets worse. No one knows what causes these brain cells to waste away.
Parkinson's 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's disease sometimes runs in families.
The disease can occur in younger adults. When a younger person gets Parkinson's, it is often due to that person’s genes.
Your health care provider may be able to diagnose Parkinson's 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’s disease, but 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’s symptoms.
Stem cell transplant and other procedures are being studied.
If you take medicines for Parkinson's 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.
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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, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.