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Quick Facts

Parkinson Disease (PD)

(Parkinson's Disease)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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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 (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).

What are the symptoms of Parkinson disease?

The first symptoms of Parkinson disease are usually:

  • Shaking (tremors) 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

  • Problems sleeping

  • Problems thinking (dementia)

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) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

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:

  • 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.

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:

  • Eating

  • Bathing

  • Dressing

  • 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 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.

Where can I get more information about Parkinson disease?

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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