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Parkinsonís Disease: Overview and Symptoms

Parkinsonís disease (also known as idiopathic paralysis agitans) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects as many as 1 million Americans. It occurs when groups of neurons in specific areas of the brain (known as the substantia nigra and locus ceruleus) malfunction and die.

As a result, the brain does not produce enough dopamine, a chemical messenger that is important for movement and coordination. Without enough dopamine, Parkinsonís disease patients have difficulty with movements and activities of daily life, and may have mood and memory problems.

The cause is unknown, but researchers think that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. However, ParkinsonísĖlike symptoms can occur in individuals who are exposed to several toxins (such as pesticides; MPTP, which is a contaminant of opioid narcotics; and high levels of the mineral manganese), infections of the brain and spinal cord, head trauma, or certain medications that affect dopamine receptors (such as antinausea medications, antipsychotic medications, and reserpine).†

Parkinsonís disease affects approximately 1 percent of Americans over age 50. The typical age of onset is the late 50s, although 10 percent of cases occur in people under 40.


The symptoms of Parkinsonís disease usually appear gradually and increase in severity over the course of years. Patients tend to have slowed movements (called bradykinesia) and appear stiff or rigid. They may have a tremor at rest, usually in the hand or thumb.

As the disease progresses, patients have more and more difficulty maintaining balance, walking, talking, and completing daily activities (such as eating, writing, dressing, and combing their hair).

Patients with Parkinsonís disease often experience some degree of depression, and may have other psychologic symptoms, including hallucinations. This may occur due to the disease itself or as a side effect of medications. Also, dementia is common in people with Parkinsonís disease, occurring in about oneĖthird of cases.


Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment >>