What Is Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a vital chemical known as dopamine which allows smooth, coordinated function of the body's muscles and movement.  When approximately 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease appear.
 
Signs & Symptoms of Parkinson's disease:
  • Tremor (shaking)
  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity (stiffness)
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Small, cramped handwriting
  • Stiff facial expression
  • Shuffling walk
  • Muffled speech
  • Depression
Who gets Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease affects both men and women in almost equal numbers and shows no social, ethnic, economic or geographic boundaries. In the U.S. there are approximately 1 million Americans who have Parkinson's disease with an estimated 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. While the condition usually develops after the age of 65, 15% of those diagnosed are under 50.
 
How is Parkinson's disease diagnosed?
The process of diagnosing Parkinson's disease is difficult as there are no X-ray or blood tests that can confirm Parkinson's. A physician arrives at the diagnosis only after a thorough examination. Blood tests and brain scans known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be performed to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.  People suspected of having Parkinson's disease should consider seeking the care of a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson's disease, a Movement Disorder Specialist.