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European Parkinson's Disease Association
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About Parkinson's

About Parkinson's

What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition – an illness that affects nerve cells in the brain that control movement. Parkinson’s is a progressive illness, which means symptoms appear gradually and slowly get worse. It is named after James Parkinson, the London doctor who first reported the symptoms in 1817.

Parkinson’s affects people of all races and cultures. Around 6.3 million people have the condition worldwide  – that’s less than one percent of the total population. Most people who get Parkinson’s are over 60, but one in ten are under 50. Slightly more men than women are affected.

Everyone with Parkinson’s has different symptoms, but the most common symptoms are tremor, muscle rigidity and slowness of movement. All of these are related to movement and are called motor symptoms. Many people with Parkinson’s also experience other problems not related to movement, such as pain, anxiety and depression. These are called non-motor symptoms.

Our movements are controlled by nerve cells (neurons) in the brain which pass messages to one another, and to the rest of the body, using chemicals called neurotransmitters. An area of the brain called the substantia nigra produces one of the neurotransmitters that controls movement: dopamine. In people with Parkinson’s, 70-80% of dopamine-producing cells gradually deteriorate and are lost – this is called neurodegeneration.

The loss of dopamine-producing neurons results in low levels of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls movement and balance. When nerve cells do not pass on brain messages properly, movement is no longer controlled smoothly and the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear.

While dopamine is the main neurotransmitter involved, others are also affected. This may explain why simply replacing dopamine does not necessarily cause improvement. It may also help to explain why so many people with Parkinson’s also experience non-motor symptoms.

As yet there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are many things you can do to positively influence the course of the disease and enhance your quality of life. Maintaining a positive approach seems to slow down the progression of symptoms and helps you to stay in control.

Parkinson’s is life-altering, but not life-threatening. Some of the more advanced symptoms may make you more vulnerable to infection, but for most people, Parkinson’s will not significantly reduce life expectancy.

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Acknowledgement

We acknowledge the help of members of our Multidisciplinary expert review panel in compiling this information.

The information in this website is not a substitute for advice from your doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional.

  • Consult your doctor if you have any doubts about the correct use of your medication or any other aspects of your Parkinson's management.
  • Remember that information on medications can change so always read the patient information leaflet that comes with each medicine.
  • Make sure your care team know about any other medical conditions you have and any other medications you take (including, non-prescription, over the counter drugs, herbal and complementary remedies)
  • Don't stop your medication or change the dose suddenly without first seeking advice from your doctor, Parkinson's Disease Nurse Specialist (PDNS) or other healthcare professional.
  • Some medications need to be taken in different ways or at different times, so it is important to follow the instructions you are given for taking each individual medication so that it works properly, and to be sure you know the correct dose.
  • If you are admitted to hospital, make sure that doctors and nurses know that you have Parkinson's. You, your family or carer should also inform them of your medication and the times you need to take them.
  • Some medications can make you sleepy, at times suddenly and without warning. Make sure you understand any safety implications, for example whether you can drive.
  • Whilst reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the site content is accurate and up-to-date, we make no warranties or representations about accuracy, sequence, timeliness or completeness of the Site content.

Please be aware that there may be national differences between countries regarding specific medical information, including licensed uses.