Parkinson’s disease is the most common form of parkinsonism. Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressing, chronic, degenerative disease that causes tremor or trembling of the jaw, arms, and legs; stiffness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk; slow movement; and postural instability. These symptoms result from the loss of brain cells in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that enables coordinated muscle movement.
The risk of Parkinson’s disease is increased with advancing ages. The average age of onset is 60 years old, though the disease can occur in younger patients, even teenagers. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 50 percent more men than women are affected.
The four most common Parkinson’s disease symptoms are:
- Shaking or tremor, or involuntary movement from contracting muscles that is most prominent when the patient is at rest
- Muscle rigidity, such as stiffness when the arm, leg or neck is moved back and forth
- Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement
- Postural instability, which includes poor posture and poor balance that may cause falls
Parkinsonism, sometimes called Parkinson’s syndrome or atypical Parkinson’s, may result from tumors, stroke of the brain, or repeated head trauma. Types of parkinsonism include:
- Drug-induced parkinsonism, which can occur as a result of prolonged use of certain drugs such as neuroleptics
- Toxin-induced parkinsonism, which is caused by manganese and carbon monoxide poisoning
- Postencephalitic parkinsonism, caused by a viral disease that causes “sleeping sickness”
- Various rarer forms of parkinsonism plus syndromes
Diagnosis and next steps
Diagnosis is based primarily on a thorough medical history and thorough neurological examination.
Parkinsonism can also accompany other neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, post-traumatic encephalopathy, Lewy body dementia and others.
Parkinson’s disease has no cure. Treatments may involve:
- Complementary and supportive therapies, such as diet, exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy
LVHN has free Parkinson’s Support Groups for people who have the condition as well as for their families or caregivers. There is also an annual patient and family educational seminar. Call 888-402-LVHN (5846) for information about monthly meetings and annual seminar.