Frequently Asked Questions about Parkinson's Disease

Q: What is Parkinson's disease?
First described by James Parkinson in the 1800s as "the shaking palsy," Parkinson’s disease (PD) involves the progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brainstem, particularly those that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that allows nerve cells to "talk" or send messages. When these cells degenerate, it causes a wide variety of symptoms, including loss of smooth and coordinated movement.

Q: What are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease causes a number of motor symptoms, including balance and coordination issues, rigidity or stiffness of the limbs, slowness of movement, and tremor in the arms, legs, hands, or jaw. PD also involves non-motor symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, impaired sense of smell, and sleep disorders. The symptoms and severity of Parkinson’s disease vary from person to person. In addition, your symptoms may vary over time. Since these symptoms can appear slowly and may mimic other diseases, PD may be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for many years. 
Q: How do you diagnose Parkinson's disease?
There is no simple, single laboratory or blood test to diagnose Parkinson's disease. We begin the diagnostic process by taking a complete medical and family history and carefully observing any visible symptoms. We use blood tests, lab tests, or imaging studies together to rule out other diseases or conditions that may be causing symptoms. 

Q: What causes Parkinson's disease?
We believe that Parkinson's disease is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics and environmental "triggers." While scientists have discovered specific genes and elements responsible for some types of Parkinson's, the cause of most cases remains unclear.

Q: Who is at risk for Parkinson's?
Your risk of developing Parkinson's disease increases with age, but it can affect younger people as well (called "young onset PD" or YOPD). Scientists have discovered that certain environmental factors (such as exposure to certain toxins or drugs) may result in the symptoms of PD, but in general, PD is caused by a combination of predisposing genetic factors and "triggering" events.

Q: What are the treatment options for Parkinson's disease?
As of now, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease and no proven treatments to stop or slow its progression. However, there are a variety of therapies that can help. Treatment options include medication and surgery, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Q: How can I find others living with Parkinson's disease?
Support groups for people with Parkinson's disease and their caregivers are an important source of information and emotional comfort. There are many national and local advocacy and support organizations as well as activities at Mount Sinai and resources for people living with this condition.