Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years.
The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:
- tremor (involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body)
- slow movement
- stiff and inflexible muscles
A person with Parkinson’s disease can also experience a wide range of other physical and psychological symptoms, including depression, constipation, problems sleeping (insomnia), loss of sense of smell (anosmia) and memory problems.
Read more about the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Seeking medical advice
See your GP if you are concerned that you may have symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Your GP will ask about the problems you are experiencing and may refer you to a specialist for further tests.
Read more about diagnosing Parkinson's disease.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body and a reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Exactly what causes the loss of nerve cells is unclear. Most experts think that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible.
Read more about the causes of Parkinson’s disease.
Who is affected
It's thought that around 1 in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease, which means there are an estimated 127,000 people in the UK with the condition.
Most people with Parkinson's start to develop symptoms when they are over 50, although around 1 in 20 people with the condition first experience symptoms when they are under 40.
Men are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.
How Parkinson’s disease is treated
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, although treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain your quality of life for as long as possible.
These include supportive treatments (such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy), medication and, in some cases, surgery.
You may not need any treatment during the early stages of Parkinson's disease, as symptoms are usually mild. However, you may need regular appointments with your specialist so your condition can be monitored.
Read more about treating Parkinson’s disease.
As the condition progresses, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease can get worse and it can become increasingly difficult to carry out everyday activities without assistance.
Some people respond well to treatment and only experience mild to moderate disability, whereas others eventually become severely disabled.
Parkinson's disease does not directly cause people to die, but the condition can place great strain on the body and can make some people more vulnerable to serious and life-threatening infections.
However, with advances in treatment, most people with Parkinson’s disease now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
Read more about living with Parkinson's disease.
It may also be useful to visit the Care Information Scotland website – written for people with care and support needs, as well as their carers and relatives. It includes information and advice on planning for your future care needs and assessing your care and support needs.
Parkinson’s UK is the main Parkinson’s support and research charity in the UK. They can help if you are living with the disease and let you know about support groups in your local area.
Their contact details are:
The Parkinson's UK website features news, publications, research updates and an online community where you can share your experiences.
Last updated: 18 January 2016
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