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What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Brain anatomy

Parkinson?s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, which affects approximately 1 million Americans. It is caused by degeneration of certain brain cells which make a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The disease presents most commonly in the seventh decade of life, although cases with early onset occur too. Parkinson?s disease is predominantly sporadic, but certain cases can be genetic. The disease usually presents itself as a resting tremor of the hands or feet with some stiffness and slowness. Later on, patients might experience problems with walking and balance.

Seventy-five percent of patients usually have resting tremors of the hands or legs, but twenty-five percent never have tremor at all. Most patients experience symptoms on one side of the body first and as the disease progresses, it might affect the other side of the body. Parkinson?s disease might affect memory and cognition, but not until later. Other symptoms could include constipation, which sometimes precedes onset of motor symptoms by decades. Loss of sense of smell has also been noted in patients with Parkinson?s disease as well as softer speech and disrupted sleep.

There are a great variety of medications that are helpful for patients with Parkinson?s disease. Although there is no current cure, a great deal of effort is spent on research aimed to develop medications that can slow down or reverse progression of the disease. However, the treatments that we have now help address symptoms such as stiffness, slowness, and tremors to some degree, which improve the quality of life of patients.

The most common medication treatment for Parkinson?s disease is levodopa, which turns into dopamine in the body and increases levels of this chemical in the brain which is missing in Parkinson’s disease. However, this medication isn?t often used in patients who have early stages of Parkinson?s disease. The most important thing for patients with Parkinson?s disease is to exercise frequently as staying physically active has proven to slow down the progression of the disease. Physical therapy, including range of motion and stretching exercises, are very important in all stages of the disease.

Parkinson?s disease is a very diverse movement disorder which affects people differently. It is important therefore to see a neurologist who specializes in this field in order to address all the problems people might develop. Also, patients are encouraged to participate in clinical trials as we are trying to find a cure for this chronic disease which affects so many people.

Dr. Alexander Shtilbans is a neurologist whose clinical and research interests lie in the area of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Parkinson?s disease. As a physician scientist, Dr. Shtilbans is interested in developing new therapies that will slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. His goal is to better understand molecular mechanisms of the neurodegenerative processes by being actively involved in both clinical and basic science research.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.