Parkinson’s Disease 101
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. What this means is that individuals with PD will be living with PD for twenty years or more from the time of diagnosis. While Parkinson’s disease itself is not fatal, the Center for Disease Control rated complications from the disease as the 14th top cause of death in the United States. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s; however, your doctors will be focused and dedicated to finding treatments that help control the symptoms of PD and have a good quality of life.
Normally, there are brain cells (neurons) in the human brain that produce dopamine. These neurons concentrate in a particular area of the brain, called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a chemical that relays messages between the substantia nigra and other parts of the brain to control movements of the human body. Dopamine helps humans to have smooth coordinated muscle movements. When approximately 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear. This process of impairment of brain cells is called neurodegeneration.
Four Main Motor Symptoms of PD:
- Shaking or tremor at rest.
- Slowness of movement, calledbradykinesia.
- Stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs or trunk.
- Trouble with balance and falls, also called postural instability. Postural instability usually appears later with disease progression and may not be present with initial diagnosis.
Secondary Symptoms of PD May Include:
- Small, cramped handwriting, called micrographia.
- Reduced arm swing on the affected side.
- Slight foot drag on affected side creating a shuffled walk.
- “Freezing”—a term used to describe being “stuck in place” when attempting to walk.
- Loss of facial expression due to rigidity of facial muscles, calledhypomimia.
- Low voice volume or muffled speech, called hypophonia.
- Tendency to fall backwards, called retropulsion.
- Decrease ability in automatic reflexes such as blinking and swallowing.
Other Symptoms of PD:
- Anxiety- beyond the normal response to stress
- Hallucinations, psychosis
- Sleep disturbances (vivid dreams, talking and moving during night sleep)
- Increase in dandruff (seaborrhea dermatitis) or oily skin
Content courtesy of the National Parkinson Foundation. Medical content reviewed by: Nina Browner, MD—Medical Director of the NPF Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in North Carolina and by Fernando Pagan, MD—Medical Director of the NPF Center of Excellence at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
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