Key Points about Parkinson’s Disease

  • Parkinson’s disease most often affects middle to older age males.
  • Parkinson’s disease is loss of ability to control body movements.
  • Treatment for Parkinson’s disease focuses on reducing symptoms with medications, lifestyle modifications and therapy.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be a surgical option for controlling symptoms for those with advanced Parkinson’s disease.
Common related conditions
Alzheimer's Dementia Multiple Sclerosis
Parkinson’s disease affects the nervous system, which includes the nerves, brain and spinal cord. It is a progressive condition, which means it worsens over time. Often, the first sign of Parkinson’s disease is a slight tremor in one hand. Over time, people with the condition lose the ability to control movements in their bodies and can also develop more serious complications.

Parkinson’s disease causes 

Parkinson’s disease is caused by neurons (nerve cells) in your brain that break down or die. Many of Parkinson’s disease symptoms are related to the loss of neurons that produce the brain chemical dopamine. The decrease in dopamine in your brain leads to Parkinson’s symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s include:

  • Being age 60 or older
  • Being male
  • Having a family member with Parkinson’s
  • Repeated exposure to herbicides and pesticides

Parkinson’s disease symptoms

The symptoms of Parkinson’s typically start mild and become more severe and pronounced over time. Signs and symptoms of the disease include:

  • Bradykinesia (slowed movement)
  • Changes in speech patterns, such as speaking more softly, quickly or slurring speech
  • Decrease in automatic movements, such as smiling, blinking or swinging arms while walking
  • Muscle stiffness, which can decrease your range of motion and ability to move normally
  • Stooped posture
  • Tremor (uncontrollable shaking) in hands or fingers
  • Trouble with balance
  • Trouble writing

Parkinson’s disease diagnosis

Your neurologist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose Parkinson’s:

Physical examination. Your neurologist will perform a comprehensive physical exam, including asking questions about your personal and family health histories. 

Blood tests. Your neurologist may use blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Imaging tests. Your specialist may order imaging tests – such as a brain ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan – to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Dopamine transporter (DAT) scan. This specialized type of computerized tomography (CT) scan can help your specialist diagnose Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease treatment

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatments generally focus on improving your symptoms:

Medications. Your neurologist may prescribe medications – such as carbidopa-levodopa, carbidopa-levodopa infusion or dopamine agonists – to help improve your walking, movement and tremors.

Regular exercise. Your specialist will likely recommend you get regular, aerobic exercise to help you manage the Parkinson’s symptoms.

Therapy. Your specialist may recommend speech-language or physical therapy to help you deal with changes related to the disease.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS). In this surgical procedure, your surgeon implants electrodes into a specific part of your brain. The electrodes are connected to a device implanted near your collarbone, and send electrical impulses to your brain. Though it can’t prevent the disease from progressing, DBS can help reduce symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. 

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a neurologist for more specialized treatment.