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What Is Parkinson Disease?

Parkinson disease (PD) is a chronic neurological disorder due to the lack of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine controls movement and posture. Common symptoms of the disease are tremors, rigidity, postural instability and bradykinesia (slow movement).Other manifestations of PD may include stooped posture, speech and swallowing problems, a mask-like facial expression, shuffling gait, decreased arm swing when walking, difficulty with fine hand movements and micrographia (small handwriting). PD symptoms may appear on one or both sides of the body. Signs of the disease have a slow, gradual onset. The cause of PD is still unknown.

Over 1.5 million people in the United States suffer from PD. Most people with Parkinson’s are over the age of 50, although younger age at diagnosis (called Young Onset Parkinson Disease) is commonly seen. Diagnosis is based on a neurological examination which includes evaluation of symptoms and their severity. PD does not affect everyone in the same way. Some people are more severely affected than others. Treatment involves individualizing the various PD medicines available to see which ones help with symptoms the most. Supervised medication adjustments are often needed. In recent years, surgical procedures have been performed on selected patients. In addition to medication, daily exercise is very important for symptom management and well being. Education and support groups also play important roles in helping people with PD, their care partners and other family members cope with this illness. At present there is no cure.

Neurologists at Washington University School of Medicine and other researchers throughout the world are actively working to find a preventative or cure for PD. Each year brings new hope for a brighter future.

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