Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Parkinson's Disease (PD)

Parkinson's Disease (PD)

What is PD?

Illustration of Parkinson's disease effect on the brain
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Parkinson's disease (or, simply, Parkinson's) is the most common form of parkinsonism, a group of motor system disorders. It is a slowly progressing, degenerative disease that is usually associated with the following symptoms, all of which result from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells:

Dopamine is a substance produced in the body which has many effects, including smooth and coordinated muscle movement.

What are the facts about PD?

It is a myth that Parkinson's disease was cured after the introduction of levodopa (L-dopa) in the 1960s. In fact, about 60,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year, with more than 1 million Americans affected at any one time. Further, more people suffer from Parkinson's disease than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis combined.

What causes PD?

The specific cause of PD is unknown; however, medical experts believe the symptoms are related to a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by brain-cell death. Parkinson's disease is chronic (persists over a long period of time), and progressive (symptoms grow worse over time).

Although the disease may appear in younger patients (even teenagers), it usually affects people in late middle age. It is not contagious.

The biggest risk factor for developing PD is advancing age. The average age for the onset of PD is 60 years. In addition, 50 percent more men are affected than women, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. However, the reason for this is unclear.

Family history is another important risk factor. Individuals with a parent or sibling who are affected have approximately two times the chance of developing PD. This increased risk is most likely because of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Environmental causes are being researched and the strong consistent findings are that rural living, exposure to well water, and exposure to agricultural pesticides and herbicides are related to PD. It is important to remember, however, that these factors do not guarantee the development of PD, nor does their absence prevent it. Having one or more close relatives with PD increases one's risk of developing the disease; however, unless there is a known genetic mutation for PD present, the increased risk is only 2 to 5 percent.

Currently researchers believe that in most individuals the cause of PD is a combination of genetics and environmental exposure.

Parkinson's syndrome, atypical Parkinson's, or parkinsonism

Parkinson's disease is also called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson's disease. (Idiopathic is the term for a disorder for which no cause has yet been identified.)

In the other forms of parkinsonism, either the cause is known or suspected, or the disorder occurs as a secondary effect of another primary neurological disorder that may have both primary and secondary symptoms of Parkinson's disease. These disorders, described as Parkinson's syndrome, atypical Parkinson's, or, simply, parkinsonism, may include the following:

What are the four primary symptoms of PD?

The following are the most common symptoms of Parkinson's disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Are there other symptoms of PD?

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease vary from patient to patient. The symptoms may appear slowly and in no particular order. Early symptoms may be subtle and may progress over many years before reaching a point where they interfere with normal daily activities.

The four cardinal symptoms of PD are listed above. Other symptoms are divided into motor (movement-related) and nonmotor symptoms.

As the disease progresses, walking may become affected, causing the patient to stop in mid-stride or "freeze" in place, and maybe even fall over. Patients also may begin walking with a series of quick, small steps as if hurrying forward to keep balance, a practice known as festination.

The symptoms of Parkinson's disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is PD diagnosed?

Making an accurate diagnosis in the early stages of Parkinson's disease can be difficult, as the beginning signs and symptoms may be considered to be indications of other conditions or the effects of normal aging. For this reason, observation of the patient may be required for some time until the symptoms are consistently present.

Currently, there are no blood or laboratory tests that are useful in the diagnosis of PD. Diagnosis of PD is based primarily on a medical history and thorough neurological examination. Brain scans and/or lab tests may be performed to help rule out other diseases or conditions, but brain scan generally will turn out to be normal with PD.

Methods to assist with the diagnosis of PD include:

What is the treatment for PD?

Specific treatment for a Parkinson's disease will be determined by your doctor based on:

With today's medicine, we have yet to find a cure for Parkinson's disease. However, based on the severity of the symptoms and medical profile, the doctor will establish an appropriate treatment protocol. Treatment for Parkinson's disease may include the following:

Medication for PD

Once the diagnosis of PD has been made, the next decision is whether a patient should receive medication, which depends on the following:

No two patients react the same way to a given drug, therefore, it takes time and patience to find an appropriate medication and dosage to alleviate symptoms.

Surgery for PD

Based on the severity of the condition and the medical profile, the doctor may recommend surgery as one treatment option for Parkinson's disease.

There are several types of surgery that may be performed that can help patients with Parkinson's disease. Most of the treatments are aimed at helping the tremor or rigidity that comes with the disease. In some patients, surgery may decrease the amount of medication that is needed to control the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including the following:

There are three types of surgeries that may be performed for Parkinson's disease, including the following:

It is important to remember that surgery may help with symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but does not cure the disease or stop the progression of the disease.

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