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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Frequently Asked Questions About Parkinson's Disease

Print out these questions and answers to discuss with your doctor.

1. Is There a Cure for Parkinson's Disease?

Although research is ongoing, to date there is no known cure or way to prevent Parkinson's disease. Still, research in Parkinson's disease has made remarkable progress. There is very real hope that the causes, whether genetic or environmental, will be identified and the precise effects of these causes on brain function will be understood. These remarkable achievements give real hope for the future.

Even though there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, by identifying individual symptoms and determining a proper course of treatment, most people with the disease can live enjoyable, fulfilling lives.

2. What Causes Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is caused by the progressive impairment or deterioration of neurons (nerve cells) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. When functioning normally, these neurons produce a vital brain chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine serves as a chemical messenger allowing communication between the substantia nigra and another area of the brain called the corpus striatum. This communication coordinates smooth and balanced muscle movement. A lack of dopamine results in abnormal nerve functioning, causing a loss in the ability to control body movements.

3. Can Parkinson's Be Prevented?

To date, there is no known way to prevent Parkinson's disease. But, there are several treatment options, including drug therapy and/or surgery that can reduce the symptoms, and make living with the disease easier.

4. What Is the Difference Between Tremors and Parkinson's Disease?

The most common cause of tremor (involuntary shaking) is a condition called essential tremor. Both essential tremor (ET) and Parkinson's disease (PD) are movement disorders. A movement disorder can be defined as any disease or injury that interferes with an individual's movement.

ET and PD are different conditions but are sometimes associated because they share many features.

Essential tremor is a disease of the body's system of nerves characterized by tremors. Areas affected most often include the hands, arms, head, and sometimes the voice. Essential tremor does not affect life expectancy, but it can become disabling for many common activities, such as writing and eating. ET also does not increase the risk for Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms of essential tremor include:

  • Involuntary tremors that occur for brief periods of time
  • A shaking voice
  • Nodding head
  • Tremors that worsen during periods of emotional stress
  • Tremors that get worse with purposeful movement
  • Tremor lessens with rest
  • Tremors are the only symptom
  • Difficulty with balance (rare)

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive brain and nerve disease that affects a small area of nerve cells (neurons) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. These cells normally produce dopamine, a chemical (neurotransmitter) that transmits signals between areas in the brain. These signals, when working normally, coordinate smooth and balanced muscle movement. Parkinson's disease however, causes the neurons in the substantia nigra to die, leading to a lack of dopamine in the brain. The loss of dopamine makes nerve cells fire out of control, causing people to lose the ability to control their body movements normally.

Symptoms of Parkinson'sinclude:

  • Muscle rigidity
  • Tremors
  • Bradykinesia (the slowing down of movement and the gradual loss of spontaneous activity)
  • Changes in walking pattern and posture
  • Changes in speech and handwriting
  • Loss of balance and increased falls
  • Orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure when standing, resulting in lightheadedness or fainting)

 

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