Parkinson's disease belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders. The four
main symptoms are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head; rigidity, or
stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural
instability, or impaired balance. These symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen with
time. As they become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or
completing other simple tasks. Not everyone with one or more of these symptoms has
Parkinson's Disease, as the symptoms sometimes appear in other diseases as well.
Parkinson's Disease is Chronic and Progressive
Parkinson's Disease is both chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, and progressive, meaning its symptoms grow worse over time. It is not contagious. Although some Parkinson's Disease cases appear to be hereditary, and a few can be traced to specific genetic mutations, most cases are sporadic that is, the disease does not seem to run in families. Many researchers now believe that Parkinson's Disease results from a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to one or more environmental factors that trigger the disease.
Parkinson's Disease is the most common form of parkinsonism,
Parkinson's Disease is the most common form of parkinsonism, the name for a group of disorders with similar features and symptoms. Parkinson's Disease is also called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson's Disease. The term idiopathic means a disorder for which no cause has yet been found. While most forms of parkinsonism are idiopathic, there are some cases where the cause is known or suspected or where the symptoms result from another disorder. For example, parkinsonism may result from changes in the brain's blood vessels.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease?
The initial symptom of Parkinson's disease is a tremor that is worse while at rest and improves during movement. Other symptoms include:
Diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease
No tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson's
disease. Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, your medical
history and the results of a clinical examination.
To help the specialist understand what is causing your tremor, you may be offered a scan of your brain called a SPECT scan (trade name DaT scan). This takes a series of pictures of your brain to find out whether there is any dopamine deficiency, which is seen in Parkinson's disease.
Your specialist may offer you an MRI scan. This can help them rule out other conditions that may have caused your symptoms.
Treatment of Parkinson's Disease
At present, there is no cure for PD, but a variety of
medications provide dramatic relief from the symptoms. Usually, patients are
given levodopa combined with carbidopa. Carbidopa delays the conversion of
levodopa into dopamine until it reaches the brain. Nerve cells can use levodopa
to make dopamine and replenish the brain's dwindling supply. Although levodopa
helps at least three-quarters of parkinsonian cases, not all symptoms respond
equally to the drug. Bradykinesia and rigidity respond best, while tremor may be
only marginally reduced. Problems with balance and other symptoms may not be
alleviated at all. Anticholinergics may help control tremor and rigidity. Other
drugs, such as bromocriptine, pramipexole, and ropinirole, mimic the role of
dopamine in the brain, causing the neurons to react as they would to dopamine.
An antiviral drug, amantadine, also appears to reduce symptoms. In May 2006, the
FDA approved rasagiline to be used along with levodopa for patients with
advanced PD or as a single-drug treatment for early PD.