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Parkinson Disease


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What is Parkinson Disease?



Parkinson's disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.  It was first described in 1817 by James Parkinson, a British physician who published a paper on what he called "the shaking palsy." In this paper, he set forth the major symptoms of the disease that would later bear his name.

Researchers believe that at least 500,000 people in the United States currently have Parkinson Disease, although some estimates are much higher. Society pays an enormous price for Parkinson Disease. The total cost to the nation is estimated to exceed $6 billion annually.  The risk of Parkinson Disease increases with age, so analysts expect the financial and public health impact of this disease to increase as the population gets older.

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders. The four main symptoms are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance. These symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen with time.  As they become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks.  Not everyone with one or more of these symptoms has Parkinson Disease, as the symptoms sometimes appear in other diseases as well.

Parkinson Disease is both chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, and progressive, meaning its symptoms grow worse over time. It is not contagious. Although some Parkinson Disease cases appear to be hereditary, and a few can be traced to specific genetic mutations, most cases are sporadic — that is, the disease does not seem to run in families.  Many researchers now believe that Parkinson Disease results from a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to one or more environmental factors that trigger the disease. 

Parkinson Disease is the most common form of parkinsonism, the name for a group of disorders with similar features and symptoms.   Parkinson Disease is also called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson Disease. The term idiopathic means a disorder for which no cause has yet been found. While most forms of parkinsonism are idiopathic, there are some cases where the cause is known or suspected or where the symptoms result from another disorder.  For example, parkinsonism may result from changes in the brain's blood vessels.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
National Institutes of Health
Brain Resources and Information Network

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