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Parkinson's Disease: Classification - Topic Overview

Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism

Parkinson's disease is named for Dr. James Parkinson, who in 1817 first described the features of this illness. Features of Parkinson's disease include tremor, slow movement (bradykinesia), and rigid muscles (rigidity). People with parkinsonism may have Parkinson's disease or another illness with similar symptoms.

Other conditions and diseases that cause parkinsonism may also cause symptoms that are not seen with Parkinson's disease. These conditions may be treated differently than Parkinson's disease. Unlike Parkinson's, some conditions that cause parkinsonism are reversible.

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Understanding Parkinson's Disease -- Symptoms

Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that progresses slowly. Some people will first notice a sense of weakness, difficulty walking, and stiff muscles. Others may notice a tremor of the head or hands. Parkinson's is a progressive disorder and the symptoms gradually worsen. The general symptoms of Parkinson's disease include: Slowness of voluntary movements, especially in the initiation of such movements as walking or rolling over in bed Decreased facial expression, monotonous sp...

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  • Parkinson's-plus syndromes are a group of disorders characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in different parts of the brain. They include progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and multiple system atrophy (MSA), among others. Parkinson's-plus syndromes have parkinsonian features as well as features that are not associated with Parkinson's disease. These syndromes usually respond poorly to levodopa or dopamine agonists.
  • Secondary or symptomatic parkinsonism describes the syndrome of parkinsonism when it occurs as the result of an identifiable cause. For example, certain medicines, brain tumors, strokes, infections (such as encephalitis), and toxins (such as carbon monoxide or manganese) can cause secondary parkinsonism.

Stages of Parkinson's disease

It may be helpful for people with Parkinson's disease and their families to be familiar with some of the ways the disease is described. Experts describe symptoms and stages of the disease differently.

Parkinson's disease sometimes is described as early, moderate, or advanced.

  • Early disease describes the stage when a person has a mild tremor or stiffness but is able to continue work or other normal daily activities. This often refers to a person who has been newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
  • Moderate disease describes the stage when a person begins to experience limited movement. A person with moderate Parkinson's disease may have a mild to moderate tremor with slow movement.
  • Advanced disease describes the stage when a person is significantly limited in his or her activity, despite treatment. Daily changes in symptoms, medicine side effects that limit treatment, and loss of independence in activities of daily living are common. A person with advanced Parkinson's disease may have significant problems with posture, movement, and speech.
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