Understanding Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive disorder of the brain and central nervous system that causes a variety of movement problems such as shaking, muscle stiffness, and difficulty walking.  It affects the cells of the brain that control muscle movement.  These cells, located in a section of the brain called the substantial nigra, produce an important neurotransmitter called dopamine.  Dopamine is important because it is the chemical messenger used to send signals from the brain to the muscles to complete smooth, coordinated movements.  When 80% of these dopamine-producing cells have died, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear.

Facts about Parkinson’s Disease

  • Approximately one million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease.
  • Approximately 60,000 people in the U.S. develop the disease each year.
  • Parkinson’s disease usually develops after age 65, but 15% of cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 40.

​Movement and coordination in your body are controlled in part by a chemical in your brain called dopamine. In Parkinson’s disease, dopamine-producing nerve cells are damaged, gradually reducing dopamine levels in the parts of the brain thought to control movement. Without dopamine, the brain doesn’t send signals to the muscles so that they can function properly. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to help minimize dopamine loss in the brain and maintain muscle function.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown. However, many researchers believe it may be caused by a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors, such as exposure to certain toxins.

Do You Have Parkinson’s Disease?

Not all movement difficulties are related to Parkinson’s disease. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, or have other reasons to believe you may have it, take action and contact your physician.  Early testing and diagnosis will help you manage your symptoms or identify other conditions that may be causing them.

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