Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects your movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while a tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson's disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In the early stages of Parkinson's disease, your face may show little or no expression or your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson's disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

Although Parkinson's disease can't be cured, medications may markedly improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Parkinson's disease symptoms and signs may vary from person to person. Early signs may be mild and may go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

Parkinson's signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tremor. Your tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may notice a back-and-forth rubbing of your thumb and forefinger known as a pill-rolling tremor. One characteristic of Parkinson's disease is a tremor of your hand when it is relaxed (at rest).
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson's disease may reduce your ability to move and slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk, or you may find it difficult to get out of a chair. Also, you may drag your feet as you try to walk, making it difficult to move.
  • Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain.
  • Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson's disease.
  • Loss of automatic movements. In Parkinson's disease, you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk. You may no longer gesture when talking.
  • Speech changes. You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson's disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than with the usual inflections. A speech-language pathologist may help improve your speech problems.
  • Writing changes. Writing may appear small and become difficult.

Medications may greatly reduce many of these symptoms. These medications increase or substitute for dopamine, a specific signaling chemical (neurotransmitter) in your brain. People with Parkinson's disease have low brain dopamine concentrations.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease — not only to diagnose your condition but also to rule out other causes for your symptoms.

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