Parkinson’s 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 one million people in the United States suffer from PD. Most patients are over the age of 50, although younger ones are being seen daily. Diagnosis of the illness is based on a neurological examination which includes evaluation of symptoms and their severity. PD does not affect everyone in the same way. Some patients are more severely affected than others. Treatment involves individualizing the various PD medicines available to see which ones help the patient 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 the patient’s well being. Education and support groups also play important roles in helping the patient and caregiver cope with this illness. At present there is no cure.
Neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine and other researchers thoughout the world are actively working to find a preventative or cure for PD. Each year brings new hope for a brighter future.