What is Parkinson’s Disease

Definition of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a common, non-fatal disorder of the brain (not necessarily of the mind). PD generally affects older persons and is considered a progressive disease, which means that the symptoms often become more obvious over a period of time.

The Discovery of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is named for the English physician, Dr. James Parkinson who described the disease in 1817 as “Shaking Palsy”. It was not until the 1960’s that the biological and chemical changes in the brain of persons with PD were identified.

Who Suffers from Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease affects over 2 million people in the United States alone. For every 100,000 people, 20 new cases of PD are diagnosed every year. Most PD cases are in persons over the age of 50. However, there is a significant increase of patients diagnosed in their 30’s and 40’s. There is also a form of PD that affects persons in their teens.

Possible Causes of Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers have discovered many of the chemical mechanisms in PD, however, the cause of PD remains unknown. One known trigger for PD is sleeping sickness (encephalitis), a viral infection that damages the same area of the nervous system as PD. This is rare, except for cases arising immediately after the world wide epidemic of sleeping sickness between 1918 and 1932. In recent years, many young people have developed PD like symptoms following the use of an illegal drug.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?

Early Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Many of the early symptoms of PD are not specific to the disease, such as weakness, constipation, shoulder pain, tiredness and fatigue. The first recognizable symptom is often tremor of the resting hand, or a change in handwriting (it becomes very small). This is common in up to 75% of all patients. Other early symptoms may include a change in speech, and difficulty starting a physical movement, such as walking, getting out of bed, or rising from a chair.

Primary Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Rigidity (A stiffness of the limbs when still and throughout movement)
  • Tremor
  • Bradykinesia (The delay in starting movement and a lessening of a movement)
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Difficulty with walking (Often short shuffling steps, known as festination)

Please Note:Many of the above symptoms can arise from any number of diseases, most of which can be treated. It is very important that anyone who suspects that they or a loved one have some of the above symptoms see a doctor so that they can search for a reversible cause.

Some Secondary Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Depression (This often is a genuine symptom of PD, not just a reaction to the diagnosis)
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Dementia
  • Forced eyelid closure
  • Speech Problems (Often a change in volume, followed by a lessening of pitch and variation)
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Weight loss (May be related to difficulty in swallowing or energy used through tremor, etc.)
  • Constipation
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Breathing problems
  • Heat intolerance
  • Rash and increased dandruff
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Stooped Posture
  • Sexual problems
  • Handwriting changes (very small handwriting)

Treatment of Parkinson's Disease

While it is true that there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease at the moment, there are many medications available today that can improve the patient’s quality of life through symptomatic treatments. These treatments will vary for each phase of the disease, however, physicians often reserve certain drugs for the later stages of the disease in order to minimize side effects and produce maximum benefit from the drug.

In addition to drug therapy, some Parkinson’s patients undergo surgery to reduce tremor and increase speed of movement, such as a thalomotomy, pallindotomy. These surgeries my include freezing or removing a portion of the brain. Another procedure, Deep Brain Stimulation, has been implemented which stimulates the target area of the brain electronically.

Support for the Parkinson's Patient and Cargiver(s)

There may be a PD Support Group in your area. To find the location of your nearest support group, you may call the American Parkinson Disease Information & Referral Center for the State of Arkansas at 501-622-3990 or 1-800-345-6621extension #3990.

For more information, please contact Lydia Stevens at the number above or:
APDA Information & Referral Center
P.O. Box 22445
Hot Springs, AR 71903

Would you like more information about Parkinson's?
Contact the National APDA Center at

800-223-2732 or 718-981-8001 or

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