About Parkinson's

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder caused by the loss of dopamine producing brain cells. Dopamine is produced in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra and transmitted to the striatum region of the basal ganglia, the movement center of the brain. When a majority of dopamine producing cells has died, patients may begin showing symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Early symptoms are subtle and occur gradually; however as the percentage of dopamine producing cell deaths increases, symptoms may begin to interfere with daily activities. The primary symptoms of Parkinson's disease include tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and impaired coordination. The exact reason why dopamine producing cells die is not known. Approximately 50,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the United States each year with approximately 4-6 million people affected by the disease worldwide. The average age of onset for Parkinson's disease is 60, however 5-10% of patients are diagnosed with early-onset of the disease before the age of 50.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2005). Parkinson's disease: Hope through research [NIH Publication No. 94-139].

What is the prognosis and what treatments are available for Parkinson's disease?

There is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, however current treatment options focus on reducing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and improving the quality of life for patients. Parkinson's disease, by itself, is not a fatal, however it does get worse with time. The progression of symptoms may take twenty years in some patients; however the disease progresses more rapidly with others. Currently, there are three types of drug therapies for Parkinson's disease. The most common therapies are drugs that increase levels of dopamine in the brain or mimic the effects of dopamine in the brain. These drugs help improve movement and prolong the amount of time that patients can live normal, productive lives. The second type of therapy affects other neurotransmitters and can help reduce tremors and muscle stiffness. A third type of therapy is used to treat symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease that are not associated with dopamine production. Some Parkinson's disease patients may develop these additional symptoms such as depression, urinary problems and/or constipation, skin or sleep disorders, and cognitive problems. Some patients are unresponsive to drug therapies and may benefit from a surgical procedure where an electrode is implanted to stimulate the brain in a way that stops some symptoms of the disease.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2005). Parkinson's disease: Hope through research [NIH Publication No. 94-139].

What is the prognosis and what treatments are available for Parkinson's disease?

Evidence-based research shows positive effects of exercise on the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. For many years, exercise was not a recommended rehabilitation strategy for persons diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, however a growing body of research suggests that exercise and physical therapy may have a far greater effect on Parkinson's disease symptoms than previously believed. Studies show that continuous, intensive training may confer neuroprotection and thereby, slow, stop or reverse progression of the disease.

Source: Hirsch MA, Farley BG. Exercise and neuroplasticity in persons living with Parkinson's disease. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2009;45(2):215-229.