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Parkinson disease

Paralysis agitans; Shaking palsy

Parkinson disease causes certain brain cells to die. These are the cells that help control movement and coordination. The disease leads to shaking (tremors) and trouble walking and moving.

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Substantia nigra and Parkinson's disease
Central nervous system

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Parkinson's disease

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Causes

Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. With Parkinson disease, the brain cells that make dopamine slowly die. Without dopamine, the cells that control movement cannot send messages to the muscles. This makes it hard to control the muscles. Slowly, over time, this damage gets worse. No one knows what causes these brain cells to waste away.

Parkinson disease most often develops after age 50. It is one of the most common nervous system problems in older adults.

Symptoms

Symptoms may be mild at first. For instance, you may have a mild tremor or a slight feeling that one leg is stiff and dragging. Symptoms may affect one or both sides of the body.

General symptoms may include:

Movement problems may include:

Symptoms of shaking (tremors):

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider may be able to diagnose Parkinson disease based on your symptoms and a physical exam. But the symptoms can be hard to pin down, particularly in older adults. Symptoms are easier to recognize as the illness gets worse.

The examination may show:

Your doctor may do some tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Treatment

There is no cure for Parkinson disease, but treatment can help control your symptoms.

MEDICINE

Your provider will prescribe medicines to help control your shaking and movement symptoms.

At certain times during the day, the medicine may wear off and symptoms can return. If this happens, your provider may need to change any of the following:

You may also need to take medicines to help with:

Parkinson medicines can cause severe side effects, including:

Tell your provider right away if you have these side effects. Never change or stop taking any medicines without talking with your provider. Stopping some medicines for Parkinson disease may lead to a severe reaction. Work with your provider to find a treatment plan that works for you.

As the disease gets worse, symptoms such as stooped posture, frozen movements, and speech problems may not respond to the medicines.

SURGERY

Surgery may be an option for some people. Surgery does not cure Parkinson disease, but it may help ease symptoms. Types of surgery include:

LIFESTYLE

Certain lifestyle changes may help you cope with Parkinson disease:

Support Groups

Parkinson disease support groups can help you cope with the changes caused by the disease.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Medicines can help most people with Parkinson disease. How well medicines relieve symptoms and for how long, can be different in each person.

If not treated, the disorder gets worse until a person is totally disabled. Parkinson disease may lead to a decline in brain function and early death.

Possible Complications

Parkinson disease may cause problems such as:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

If you take medicines for Parkinson disease, tell your provider about any side effects, which may include:

Also call your provider if the condition gets worse and home care is no longer possible.

Related Information

Walking abnormalities
Muscle cramps
Secondary parkinsonism
Catecholamine blood test
Dementia
Eating extra calories when sick - adults
Swallowing problems

References

American Parkinson Disease Association. Parkinson's Disease Handbook: A Guide for Patients and Their Families. Revised 2009. Available at: www.apdaparkinson.org/uploads/files/MP51919AmParkinsonHBK-vaU.pdf. Accessed September 15, 2015.

Connolly BS, Lang AE. Pharmacological treatment of Parkinson disease: a review. JAMA. 2014;311:1670-1683. PMID: 24756517 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24756517.

Duker AP, Espay AJ. Surgical treatment of Parkinson disease: past, present, and future. Neurol Clin. 2013;31:799-808. PMID: 23896506 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23896506.

Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 71.

Zesiewicz TA, Sullivan KL, Arnulf I, et al. Practice parameter: treatment of nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson disease: report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2010;74:924-931. PMID:20231670 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20231670

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Review Date: 8/13/2015  

Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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