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Alternative Names Return to topParalysis agitans; Shaking palsy
Definition Return to top
Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking (tremors) and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination.
Causes Return to top
Parkinson's disease was first described in England in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson. The disease most often develops after age 50. It is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly. Sometimes Parkinson's disease occurs in younger adults, but is rarely seen in children. It affects both men and women.
In some cases, Parkinson's disease occurs in families. When a young person is affected, it is usually because of a form of the disease that runs in families.
Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. Parkinson's disease occurs when the nerve cells in the part of the brain that makes dopamine are slowly destroyed. Without dopamine, the nerve cells in that part of the brain cannot properly send messages. This leads to the loss of muscle function. The damage gets worse with time. The exact reason why the brain cells waste away is unknown.
Parkinson's in children may occur because the nerves are not as sensitive to dopamine. Parkinson's is rare in children.
The term "parkinsonism" refers to any condition that involves the types of movement changes seen in Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism may be caused by other disorders (such as secondary parkinsonism) or certain medications.
Symptoms Return to top
The disorder may affect one or both sides of the body. How much function is lost can vary.
Symptoms may be mild at first. For instance, the patient may have a mild tremor or a slight feeling that one leg or foot is stiff and dragging.
Exams and Tests Return to top
The health care provider may be able to diagnose Parkinson's disease based on your symptoms and a physical examination. However, the symptoms can be difficult to assess, particularly in the elderly. The signs (tremor, change in muscle tone, problems walking, unsteady posture) become more clear as the illness progresses.
An examination may show:
Reflexes should be normal.
Tests may be needed to rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms.
Treatment Return to top
There is no known cure for Parkinson's disease. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms.
Medications control symptoms, mostly by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. As symptoms change, the following may need to be altered:
Work closely with your doctors and therapists to adjust the treatment program. Never change or stop taking any medications without talking with your doctor.
Many medications can cause severe side effects, including hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and delirium. Monitoring and follow-up by the health care provider is important.
Eventually, symptoms such as stooped posture, frozen movements, and speech difficulties may not respond very well to drug treatment.
Medications used to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease are:
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful for Parkinson's disease:
Less commonly, surgery may be an option for patients with very severe Parkinson's disease who no longer respond to many medications. These surgeries do not cure Parkinson's, but may help some patients:
Support Groups Return to top
Support groups may help you cope with the changes caused by the disease.
See: Parkinson's disease - support group
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Untreated, the disorder will get worse until a person is totally disabled. Parkinson's may lead to a deterioration of all brain functions, and an early death.
Most people respond to medications. How much the medications relieve symptoms, and for how long can be very different in each person. The side effects of medications may be severe.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
Also tell the health care provider about medication side effects, which may include:
Also call your health care provider if the condition gets worse and home care is no longer possible.
References Return to top
Lang A. Parkinsonism. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 433.
Miyasaki JM, Shannon K, Voon V, Ravina B, Kleiner-Fisman G, Anderson K, et al. Practice Parameter: evaluation and treatment of depression, psychosis, and dementia in Parkinson's disease (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2006;66:996-1002.
Suchowersky O, Reich S, Perlmutter J, Zesiewicz T, Gronseth G, Weiner WJ. Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Practice Parameter: diagnosis and prognosis of new onset Parkinson disease (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2006.66:968-975.
Pahwa R, Factor SA, Lyons KE, Ondo WG, Gronseth G, Bronte-Stewart H, et al. Practice Parameter: treatment of Parkinson disease with motor fluctuations and dyskinesia (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2006;66:983-995.Update Date: 1/21/2009 Updated by: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.