Parkinson's Disease

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Parkinson's Disease


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What is Parkinson’s disease?

What are the symptoms and signs of Parkinson’s disease?

How common is Parkinson’s disease?

What causes Parkinson’s disease?

Is Parkinson’s disease hereditary?

What is the difference between idiopathic and secondary parkinsonism?

How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?

What are the treatments for Parkinson’s disease?

Where can I get more information?

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What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a slowly progressive, chronic neurological condition that affects a small area of cells in the midbrain known as the substantia nigra. Gradual degeneration of these cells causes a reduction in dopamine, a vital neurotransmitter used by your nerves to transmit signals from your brain to the rest of your body.

 

What are the symptoms and signs of Parkinson’s disease?

Decreased levels of dopamine can produce one or more of the classic signs of Parkinson's disease:
  • • Gait or balance problems (postural dysfunction)
  • • Generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • • Resting tremor on one side of the body
  • • Stiffness of limbs (rigidity)

Other symptoms you may observe include:

  • Decreased facial expression (hypomimia)
  • Episodes of feeling "stuck in place" when initiating a step (freezing)
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Increase in dandruff or oily skin
  • Lack of arm swing on the affected side
  • Less frequent blinking and swallowing
  • Lowered voice volume (dysarthria)
  • Slight foot drag on the affected side
  • Small cramped handwriting (micrographia)

Please note that few patients experience all of these symptoms, and some may experience other symptoms not listed here.

 

How common is Parkinson’s disease?

It is estimated that up to 1.5 million Americans are affected with Parkinson’s disease.
  • 40,000 to 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year
  • One of every 100 persons over the age of 60 is affected
  • 15% of patients are diagnosed before the age of 50

 

What causes Parkinson’s disease?

While we understand the disease process of Parkinson’s, its cause remains a mystery. In Parkinson’s disease, cells begin to die in a small, deep area of the brain called the substantia nigra.

The cells in this area manufacture dopamine, a chemical messenger that helps your brain and spinal cord command the muscles that control voluntary movement. As the cells in your substantia nigra degenerate, the amount of dopamine in your brain decreases. Symptoms of Parkinson's begin to appear when approximately 70 to 80 percent of these cells have died. We do not yet know why these cells die in some individuals but not in others.

 

Is Parkinson’s disease hereditary?

While only 20 percent of people with Parkinson’s are thought to have a hereditary connection, researchers recently isolated a gene responsible for multiple cases of the disease in a large family. However, most researchers agree that Parkinson's disease is probably the result of a genetic predisposition coupled with an unknown environmental factor.

Some researchers are investigating a possible link between Parkinson's and exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. Others think the disease may be the result of the natural aging process gone awry, accelerating the normal brain cell death that occurs as we age.

 

What is the difference between idiopathic and secondary parkinsonism?

Most cases of Parkinson's disease are idiopathic – meaning without a known cause.

However, sometimes Parkinson's symptoms can be linked to stroke, exposure to certain toxins or use of medications such as those used to treat psychosis and nausea. In these cases, the condition is known as secondary parkinsonism. Secondary parkinsonism may be reversible if the cause is identified and can be eliminated.

 

How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?

There is no definitive blood test or X-ray to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Rather, the diagnosis is based on a thorough neurological examination that includes your symptoms, medical history, and response to medications.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and blood tests can help rule out conditions that may produce similar symptoms, such as stroke or normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). Once a probable diagnosis is established, your doctor will prescribe medications that will help confirm or disprove the diagnosis.

 

What are the treatments for Parkinson’s disease?

While there is no cure for this condition, Parkinson's disease is not a fatal illness. Progressive treatments allow many patients to maintain a high level of function. The goal of treatment is to maximize independence and quality of life. Your treatment may include medication, surgery, and rehabilitation therapy.
  • Medication
    Medications aimed at controlling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can provide effective Parkinson's treatment. Your treatment will need to be tailored your symptoms and may require a combination of several different medications.

  • Surgery
    For those whose symptoms do not respond to the usual medical treatments, or those in whom medication is losing effectiveness, surgery may be an option. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves placement of a wire electrode into a specific area of your brain. This electrode is connected to a stimulator, somewhat like that of a cardiac pacemaker. The stimulator is then implanted beneath the skin under your collarbone. You can switch on the stimulator with a hand-held control, sending electronic pulses to the brain to interrupt the signals that cause tremor.

  • Rehabilitation Therapy
    Physical, occupational, or speech therapy–combined with modifications in the home environment–can help you Parkinson's achieve maximum comfort, safety, and independence.

 

Where can I get more information?

Sections of this information were reprinted and adapted, with permission, from the National Parkinson Foundation, Inc. web site. For additional information and resources, visit http://www.parkinson.org/.

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How can we help you?

To schedule an appointment with a physician please call (602) 406-6262.

To schedule an appointment with therapy services please call (602) 406-5266.

Community Outreach and Education programs are available to anyone with Parkinson’s disease regardless of where medical care is received. Please call (602) 406-4921 for more information.

Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Clinic
Barrow Neurological Institute
240 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85013

 

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Barrow Neurological Institute
350 W. Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013
(602) 406-3000