Jersey Institute of Neuroscience

The symptoms of Parkinson disease (PD) were first described in 1817 by an English physician named James Parkinson. In his composition titled, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, Dr. Parkinson clearly outlined the motor symptoms of PD. This included resting tremor, stooped posture, shuffling gait, balance problems and generalized slowness. Although these symptoms were the focus of his report, Dr. Parkinson went on to mention other less obvious characteristics of this complex disorder. Of special interest, he noted disturbances in mood, which he referred to as melancholy. PD is generally considered a disease that affects only the body. However, as noted by Dr. Parkinson, it commonly affects the mind and spirit as well.

PD is a slowly progressive neurological disorder, or disorder of the brain. It affects roughly 1.5 million Americans, which is more than multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy combined. PD is diagnosed in one out of every 100 people over the age of 60. It is generally seen as a disease that occurs later in life, yet approximately 15% of individuals are diagnosed under the age of 50. The cause of PD remains unknown however, most doctors believe it is due to a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors.

There are currently no medical tests or studies that can detect PD. Diagnosis relies solely on the patient's report and the clinician's examination. Most clinicians look for at least two of the cardinal symptoms to be present before considering the diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson disease (IPD). In addition to the cardinal symptoms of PD, a large number of secondary symptoms exist. Diagnosing IPD can be challenging due to other known forms of parkinsonism. Parkinsonism refers to conditions that produce Parkinson-like symptoms but are not true Parkinson disease.

Treatment of PD typically consists of a combination of medications, exercise and proper diet. Medications not only include anti-PD agents, such as carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), but also medications that help alleviate secondary symptoms. Deep brain stimulation has also become an excellent option for a selective group of individuals. Although a cure does not yet exist for PD, great strides are continuously made in developing new and effective treatments.