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 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:
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.
There is no cure for Parkinson disease, but treatment can help control your symptoms.
Your health care provider will prescribe medicines to help control your shaking and movement symptoms. These drugs work by increasing dopamine in your brain.
At certain times during the day, the medicine often wears off and symptoms can return. If this happens, your health care provider may need to change the:
You may also need to take medicines to help with:
Parkinson medicines can cause severe side effects, including:
Tell your doctor right away if you have these side effects. Never change or stop taking any medicines without talking with your doctor. Work with your doctors and other providers 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 may be an option for some people. Surgery does not cure Parkinson disease, but it may help ease symptoms. Types of surgery include:
Certain lifestyle changes may help you cope with Parkinson disease:
Parkinson disease support groups can help you cope with the changes caused by the disease.
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 deterioration of all brain functions and an early death.
Call your health care provider if:
If you take medicines for Parkinson disease, tell your health care provider about any side effects, which may include:
Also call your health care provider if the condition gets worse and home care is no longer possible.
Paralysis agitans; Shaking palsy
American Parkinson Disease Association. Be independent: a guide for people with Parkinson disease. Staten Island, NY: American Parkinson Disease Association, Inc. 2009. Accessed July 27, 2014.
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Duker AP, Espay AJ. Surgical treatment of Parkinson disease: past, present, and future. Neurol Clin. 2013;31:799-808.
Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 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.
Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department 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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