Frequently Asked Questions

What is parkinson disease?

Parkinson disease (PD) belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of PD are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. PD usually affects people over the age of 60 but may also affect people under the age of 50 (young onset Parkinson’s disease). Early symptoms of PD are subtle and occur gradually. In some people the disease progresses more quickly than in others. As the disease progresses, the shaking, or tremor, which affects the majority of people with PD may begin to interfere with daily activities. Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions. There are currently no blood or laboratory tests that have been proven to help in diagnosing sporadic PD. Therefore, the diagnosis is based on medical history and a neurological examination. The disease can be difficult to diagnose accurately. Doctors may sometimes request brain scans or laboratory tests in order to rule out other diseases.

Scientists looking for the cause of PD continue to search for possible environmental factors, such as toxins, that may trigger the disorder, and study genetic factors to determine how defective genes play a role.

Is parkinson's hereditary?

What causes pd?

Although significant research advances have been made, including the recent identification of possible environmental and genetic risk factors for PD, further research is required to elucidate underlying causes of PD. Scientists looking for the cause of PD continue to search for possible environmental factors, such as toxins, that may trigger the disorder, and study genetic factors to determine how defective genes play a role.

Besides drug therapy and surgery, what other treatment programs are available?

Exercise can help people with PD improve their mobility and flexibility. Some doctors prescribe physical therapy or muscle-strengthening exercises to tone muscles and to put underused and rigid muscles through a full range of motion. The effects of exercise on disease progression are not known, but it may improve body strength so that the person is less disabled. Exercises also improve balance, helping people minimize gait problems, and can strengthen certain muscles so that people can speak and swallow better. Exercise can improve emotional well-being and general physical activity, such as walking, gardening, swimming, calisthenics, and using exercise machines, can have other benefits.

Other complementary and supportive therapies that are used by some individuals with PD include massage therapy, yoga, hypnosis, acupuncture, and the Alexander technique, which optimizes posture and muscle activity.

Another important therapeutic approach involves speech and swallowing evaluation and therapy.  Certain techniques can help with the low voice volume that individuals with Parkinson’s often experience.

How can people cope with parkinson disease?

While PD usually progresses slowly, eventually daily routines may be affected—from socializing with friends to earning a living and taking care of a home. These changes can be difficult to accept. Support groups can help people cope with the disease’s emotional impact. These groups also can provide valuable information, advice, and experience to help people with PD, their families, and their caregivers. Support groups can deal with a wide range of issues, including locating movement disorder specialists (doctors who specialize in Parkinson disease), education, and coping mechanisms to help with physical limitations. Individual or family counseling may also help people find ways to cope with PD.

People with PD may also benefit from being proactive and educating themselves as much as possible about the disease to alleviate fear of the unknown and to take a positive role in maintaining their health. Many people with PD continue to work either full- or part-time, although they may need to adjust their schedule and working environment to accommodate their symptoms.

Source: National Institute of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke