What is Parkinson disease?
Parkinson disease is a brain disease that causes you to slowly lose control of your movements. It can cause shaking (tremors), stiff muscles, slow movements, and problems with your balance. In many people, it also causes thinking problems or dementia Dementia Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, and learn. Most dementia begins little by little and starts after age 65. It’s normal for the brain to change with age, but... read more (your memory and ability to learn get worse over time).
Parkinson disease happens from damage to the part of your brain called the basal ganglia, which helps control movement and balance
The most common symptom is usually tremor (shaking of a body part that you don’t control)
There's no cure for Parkinson disease, but treatments may help control symptoms
1 in 100 people over age 65 and about 1 in 10 people over 80 have Parkinson disease
What causes Parkinson disease?
When you move a muscle, the signal moves through the basal ganglia in your brain. The basal ganglia makes a substance called dopamine. Dopamine smooths movements. Parkinson disease damages the basal ganglia so it doesn't make as much dopamine. Without enough dopamine, your movements can be slow, jerky, or stiff.
Doctors don’t know for sure what causes Parkinson disease. It tends to run in families, so there is probably a genetic cause.
Other brain diseases and certain drugs sometimes cause symptoms similar to Parkinson disease (parkinsonism Parkinsonism Parkinson disease is a disease that affects the part of your brain that controls your movements. You get tremors (shaking), stiff muscles, slow movements, trouble with your balance, and difficulty... read more ).
What are the symptoms of Parkinson disease?
The first symptoms of Parkinson disease are usually:
Shaking (tremors Tremor A tremor is part of your body shaking in a way you can’t control. Tremors can happen in your hands, head, or muscles that control your voice, back, belly, or legs A small amount of movement... read more ) of your fingers and hands when your muscles are relaxed and at rest—this is the most common first symptom
Problems moving—your movements are slow and difficult to start
Less sense of smell
Other symptoms of Parkinson disease include:
Your muscles becoming stiff and hard to move
Problems with your balance and walking, standing, or sitting
Problems blinking or swallowing
Soft, stuttering speech
How can doctors tell if I have Parkinson disease?
Doctors diagnose Parkinson disease based on:
Your symptoms and a physical exam
Tests such as computed tomography (CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more ) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer creates a series of detailed pictures. Each picture looks like a slice taken... read more )
CT or MRI can help the doctor see if some other brain disorder is causing your symptoms.
How do doctors treat Parkinson disease?
There's no cure for Parkinson disease.
Doctors treat you with:
Physical therapy Physical Therapy (PT) Physical therapy, a component of rehabilitation, involves exercising and manipulating the body with an emphasis on the back, upper arms, and legs. It can improve joint and muscle function, helping... read more and occupational therapy Occupational Therapy (OT) Occupational therapy, a component of rehabilitation, is intended to enhance a person's ability to do basic self-care activities, useful work, and leisure activities. These activities include... read more
Medicines, such as levodopa and carbidopa
Sometimes surgery to put tiny electrodes in your brain to stimulate the basal ganglia (a surgery called deep brain stimulation)
Physical therapy and occupational therapy can help you move and be as independent as possible with your daily activities and walking.
Medicines such as levodopa and carbidopa can make movement easier and enable you to function effectively for many years.
Doctors consider doing deep brain stimulation only if you have severe symptoms and medicines aren't helping. For deep brain stimulation, your doctor puts a thin wire through a small opening in your skull and then into the problem area in your brain. The other end of the wire goes under your skin and connects to a battery pack under your collarbone. The device sends electrical signals to the problem areas in your brain.
Some simple measures can also help:
Continue to do as many daily activities as possible
Be active on a regular schedule
Simplify daily tasks—for example, have buttons on your clothing replaced with Velcro fasteners or buy shoes with Velcro fasteners
Use assistive devices, such as zipper pulls and button hooks
Remove throw rugs to prevent tripping
Install grab bars in bathrooms and railings in hallways to avoid falling
Caregiver and end-of-life issues
You'll eventually need help with normal daily activities, such as:
Using the bathroom
It can be very helpful for caregivers to learn about Parkinson disease and ways to help you. Caregiving is tiring and stressful, and many caregivers find support groups helpful.
Most people with Parkinson disease become unable to do basic tasks, and many people (about 1 in 3) get dementia. Before this happens, it may help to write an advance directive. An advance directive Advance Directives Health care advance directives are legal documents that communicate a person’s wishes about health care decisions in the event the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions. There... read more is a written plan to let your loved ones and doctors know what kinds of medical care you want toward the end of your life.