What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects movement, muscle control, and balance. Parkinson’s disease usually affects people 55 - 75 years old, but it can also develop in younger people. The disease is progressive, with symptoms becoming more severe over time.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. The disease is diagnosed mostly through symptoms, which may include:
- Tremors (shaking) in the hands, arms, legs, and face
- Slowness of movement, especially when initiating motion
- Muscle rigidity
- Difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Digestive problems
- Speech problems
- Depression and difficulties with memory and thought processes
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatments focus on controlling symptoms and improving quality of life.
- Medications. Because Parkinson’s disease symptoms are due to a deficiency of the brain chemical dopamine, the main drug treatments help increase dopamine levels in the brain. Levadopa, usually combined with carbidopa, is the standard drug treatment. For patients who do not respond to levadopa, dopamine agonists (drugs that mimic the action of dopamine) may be prescribed. Other types of medication may also be used. Unfortunately, many of these drugs can cause side effects and lose effectiveness over time.
- Physical Therapy. Physical therapy is an important part of Parkinson’s treatment. Rehabilitation can help patients improve their mobility, speech, and functional abilities.
- Surgery. In some cases of advanced-stage Parkinson’s disease, surgery may help to control motor problems. Deep brain stimulation is currently the preferred surgical method.
Review Date: 06/18/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.