Parkinsons Disease

Parkinson’s occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a vital chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows smooth, coordinated function of the body’s muscles and movement. When approximately 70% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson disease appear. Parkinson’s is progressive, which means it gets worse over time. But usually this happens slowly, over a period of many years. And there are good treatments that can help you live a full life.

The disease is named after the English doctor James Parkinson, who published the first detailed description in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817. Several major organizations promote research and improvement of quality of life of those with the disease and their families. Public awareness campaigns include Parkinson’s disease day (on the birthday of James Parkinson, April 11) and the use of a red tulip as the symbol of the disease. People with Parkinsonism who have increased the public’s awareness include actor Michael J. Fox, Olympic cyclist Davis Phinney and professional boxer Muhammad Ali.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects your movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression, or your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

Although Parkinson’s disease can’t be cured, medications may markedly improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease, which mostly affects older people but can occur at any age, results from the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements. The first signs are likely to be barely noticeable — a feeling of weakness or stiffness in one limb, perhaps, or a fine trembling of one hand when it is at rest. Eventually, the shaking worsens and spreads, muscles tend to stiffen, and balance and coordination deteriorate. Depression, cognitive issues, and other mental or emotional problems are common as well.

Parkinson’s disease usually begins between the ages of 50 and 65, striking about 1% of the population in that age group; it is slightly more common in men than in women. Medication can treat its symptoms, and the disorder is not directly life-threatening.