Want to learn more about Parkinson's disease?

We asked the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to help with basic information.

We know: The Facts on Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders that result from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. For primary Parkinson's disease, no cause has yet been found.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson's?

The four primary symptoms are tremor or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia or slowness of movement; and postural instability or impaired balance and coordination.

As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks.

Is the disease chronic? Progressive? Contagious? Inherited?

Yes, it's chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time. It is also progressive, meaning its symptoms grow worse over time.

However, it is not contagious nor is it usually inherited.

Who gets Parkinson's disease?

About 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. Parkinson's disease strikes men at a slightly higher rate than women and it knows no social, economic, or geographic boundaries.

Parkinson's disease is a disease of late middle age. The average age of onset is 60 years. However, some physicians have reportedly noticed more cases of "early-onset" Parkinson's disease in patients under the age of 40.

What treatments are available?

At present, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease. But a variety of medications provide dramatic relief from the symptoms. Here are some medications:

  • Levodopa (also called L-Dopa) is the gold standard of present drug therapy. L-Dopa is a simple chemical found naturally in plants and animals. It delays the onset of debilitating symptoms and allows the majority of parkinsonian patients to extend the period of time in which they can lead relatively normal lives.
  • Bromocriptine, pergolide, pramipexole and ropinirole. These four drugs mimic the role of dopamine in the brain, causing the neurons to react as they would to dopamine.
  • Anticholinergics. These drugs were the main treatment for Parkinson's disease until the introduction of levodopa.
  • Amantadine. An antiviral drug, amantadine, helps reduce symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

What about surgery?

Treating Parkinson's disease with surgery was once a common practice. But after the discovery of levodopa, surgery was restricted to only a few cases.

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