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Published: May 17, 2010
Updated: May 17, 2010
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by degeneration (dysfunction and death) of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Parkinson's disease affects people of all ages, but the likelihood of developing PD increases with age. More than a million people in the United States have the disease, including 1 percent of people over the age of 60.
PD can include motor and nonmotor symptoms:
There is no specific test or marker for PD. Most often the disease is diagnosed by symptoms and a careful neurological examination and depends on the presence of at least two of the three major signs: Tremor at rest, rigidity and bradykinesia, as well as the absence of a secondary cause.
In some cases, imaging such as a fluorodopa positron emission tomography (PET) scan can to help confirm the diagnosis.
Although no treatment has been definitively shown to stop or slow disease progression, there is effective treatment for the symptoms of the disease. Medical and surgical treatments are available. Other approaches include physical therapy and exercise.
The following classes of drugs are used to treat the motor symptoms of PD:
Surgical treatments, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), are used for more advanced patients whose symptoms can no longer be adequately managed with medications. A good surgical candidate is someone who responds well to dopaminergic therapy, has motor complications (off periods and dyskinesias), and is otherwise healthy.
Deep brain stimulation uses implanted electrodes to stimulate a specific target in the brain. The electrical stimulation interferes with the abnormal activity, creating the same effect as a lesion.