Parkinson’s – At a Glance

Female brain x-ray anatomy

It is estimated that seven to 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease.

In the United States, there are as many as one million people with Parkinson’s (and some 60,000 new diagnoses each year) – more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease.


San Diego is home to 60,000 people with Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease is included in a group of neurological conditions referred to as motor system disorders. Parkinson’s was first called “the shaking palsy” by British doctor James Parkinson in 1817. The disease was named after him because of his early work identifying its symptoms.

In a normal brain, the chemical dopamine is produced by some of the nerve cells. Dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals that tell the brain to produce smooth muscle movements.

For those with Parkinson’s, 80+ percent of the cells that produce dopamine have been damaged, are degenerated or dead. This causes nerve cells to fire wildly, leaving patients unable to control their movements.

Motor symptoms normally appear in one or more ways:

  • Trembling (“tremor”) in arms, hands, face, jaw and/or legs
  • Rigidity (stiffness) of the trunk or limbs
  • Slowness of movement (“bradykinesia”)
  • Postural instability (impaired coordination and balance)

Early symptoms are often gradual; they can be so subtle that they are frequently ignored or attributed to normal aging. In the earliest stages, patients may be a little shaky, experience fatigue or feel sad. They may be irritable for no apparent reason; movements can be slow or unsteady; speech may soften.

Non-motor symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased sweating
  • Low blood pressure when standing
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Internal tremor (general “shakiness” or a vibrating sensation in the body)
  • Changes in thinking

Parkinson’s can only be diagnosed by a trained medical professional through the process of elimination. Misdiagnosis is common so, if you’re unsure, seek a second opinion.

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