A Brief Description of Parkinson’s Disease


In 1817, a British surgeon, James Parkinson published the first written description of what he termed “The Shaking Palsy,” later named Parkinson’s disease.  Parkinson’s disease is described as a neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscle tremors and muscular atrophy (Goetz, 2011). 

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

In the United States, about 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year (DeMaagd & Philip, 2015). Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurological condition affecting both motor and non-motor functions. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occur because the brain stops producing a vital substance, called dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in body movement, memory, and our experiencing feelings of satisfaction and motivation.

There is not a specific test that is used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, but clinicians can diagnosis the disease by the presence of specific signs and symptoms that we have listed below.

             Motor Symptoms 

Parkinson’s disease is known for the impact it has on the body’s movement. These motor symptoms are:

·       Bradykinesia - The term for the slowing of movements. Activities of daily living, such as dressing, showering are performed at a slower pace as are some automatic movements such as swinging one's arms while walking or getting up from a chair. It can even affect your facial expressions. 

·       Tremors  -  Involuntary movements that can affect an individual's limbs or face. There are three kinds of kinds of tremors that impact individuals who have Parkinson’s: resting (occurs while someone is not using their body), rhythmic (slowed and continuous movements), and asymmetric (starting on one side of the body). 

·       Rigidity - bilateral or unilateral stiffness in the arms or legs. 

·       Postural Instability - a reduction in balance while walking. 

·       Akinesia - spontaneous loss of voluntary muscle movement. 

·       Hypomimia - reduced facial expression, also referred to as facial masking. 

             Non-motor Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease has a physical impact on individuals, but there are also unseen symptoms which individuals who have been diagnosed may experience. 

·        Mental Health -  A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can cause depressionanxiety, and apathy

·       Respiratory— individuals may experience shortness of breath or respiratory dyskinesia, which may be a side effect of medication prescribed to reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms. 

·       Speech & Swallowing Issues—Parkinson’s disease can affect the systems that enable speech by lowering the control of respiration, and tongue and throat muscles. There is also an increased risk of developing aspiration pneumonia, caused when a liquid or food is breathed into the lungs or airways.

·       Sleep Disorders—physiological changes in the brain and medications prescribed for Parkinson’s disease can cause disruptions in sleep. Individuals may experience drowsiness during the day, difficulty falling and staying asleep, restless leg syndrome, talking, vivid dreams, and frequent trips to the bathroom. 

·       Pain—Parkinson’s can cause individuals to feel different kinds of pain. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, pain is divided into 5 categories: 

o   Musculoskeletal pain that occurs when Parkinson’s disease affects bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. 

o   Neuropathic/Radicular pain that occurs when the nerve root is pinched. 

o   Dystonic pain that occurs when muscles continuously twist or have spasms and cramps. 

o   Akathisia—restlessness or unable to be still. 

o   Central pain—pain that is because of the pathways not functioning properly in the spinal cord, brain, and brainstem. 

What are the Risk Factors? 

According to researchers, about 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year (Willis et al., 2022). Though there is not a specific cause, scientists have determined there are risk factors associated with being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Hopkins Medical lists age, biological sex, heredity, and exposure to pesticides as the highest risk factors correlated with a diagnosis.

·       Age—Parkinson’s disease is mostly seen in older (70+) adults. Early-onset Parkinson’s is less frequent but can occur around age 50 and has been seen in people as young as 30 years old. 

·       Biological Sex—Parkinson’s disease affects more men than it does woman. 

·       Heredity—individuals with a family member who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are 15 to 25% more likely to also be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. 

Are there Treatments for Parkinson’s* 

Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, but there are interventions that can be implemented to subside symptoms. 

·       Medication—according to the National Health Institute, there are three kinds of medication that are prescribed to combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: dopamine precursors help increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Medications that affect neurotransmitters, which can help reduce some of the motor symptoms, and medications that help with the non-motor symptoms. Read more about medications here

·       Exercise—staying active and stretching can help individuals with their mobility, balance, and body strength.  

·       Surgery—Surgery may be an option for individuals when they have become tolerant of the medications prescribed. Surgery options could include removing specific parts of the brain that cause many of the motor symptoms. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is also an option. DBS is a surgically implanted electrode that helps to ease motor symptoms

Resources for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Foundation—an organization that provides information and resources for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. They have multiple initiatives, including the Parkinson’s disease GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease, which “offers genetic testing and counseling at no cost for people with Parkinson’s disease”. You can also check out the “ABCs” of Parkinson’s disease here

American Parkinson Disease Association—According to their website, “The American Parkinson Disease Association works tirelessly every day to support and empower anyone who is affected by Parkinson’s disease. Our nationwide network provides information and referral, education and support programs, health and wellness activities, and other events to facilitate a better quality of life for the PD community, while also funding vital research.”

PAN Foundation—offers financial assistance for medications to individuals who have chronic and rare diseases, The PAN Foundation helps “patients improve their quality of life while we also advocate for long-term policies that help improve healthcare access, affordability, and equity for all.”

PMD Alliance—offers online and in-person training that is created by professionals for individuals who have Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers. They offer information on healthcare providers, care facilities, and support groups.

Works Cited

DeMaagd, G., & Philip, A. (2015). Parkinson's Disease and Its Management: Part 1: Disease Entity, Risk Factors, Pathophysiology, Clinical Presentation, and Diagnosis. P & T: a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management40(8), 504–532. 

Goetz C. G. (2011). The history of Parkinson's disease: early clinical descriptions and neurological therapies. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine1(1), a008862. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a008862

Willis, A.W., Roberts, E., Beck, J.C. et al. Incidence of Parkinson disease in North America. npj Parkinsons Dis. 8, 170 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41531-022-00410-y