Parkinson’s is a neurological disease that affects the brain and nervous system. These changes affect movement and can cause motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and loss of balance.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that occurs due to changes in nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. These changes affect movement and the body’s functions, resulting in the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

This article looks at what Parkinson’s is and why it is a neurological disease, as well as symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and more.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Parkinson’s disease, visit our dedicated hub.

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A neurological disease or disorder is a condition that affects the brain, spine, or nervous system. A neurological disorder may cause symptoms that are physical, psychological, or both.

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease because it happens due to a change in nerve cells in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia.

Usually, nerve cells in the basal ganglia produce dopamine, which is an important chemical messenger. Dopamine helps nerve cells communicate and helps control muscle movement.

With Parkinson’s, these nerve cells become impaired or die. This means they cannot produce enough dopamine, which affects movement and can cause symptoms such as tremors, rigid muscles, and loss of balance.

Parkinson’s can also cause a loss of nerve endings, which usually produce another chemical messenger called norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine is an important part of the sympathetic nervous system, which helps control many important functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.

The loss of norepinephrine can cause non-movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as fatigue and changes in blood pressure.

Parkinson’s is a progressive, degenerative disease, which means the condition worsens over time. Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, treatment can help to manage symptoms.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s may include:

  • tremors occurring in the head, jaw, arms, hands, or legs
  • muscle stiffness or rigidity
  • slowness of movement
  • decreased facial expressions, slower reaction times, decreased blinking or drooling
  • impaired coordination and balance, which may cause falls
  • change in posture, such as stooping
  • change in gait, which may make a person take smaller steps and lean forward as they walk
  • handwriting may become small and cramped
  • depression or mood changes
  • dementia
  • changes to the voice or difficulty speaking
  • difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • urinary problems
  • constipation
  • skin problems

Symptoms may occur gradually, and at first, may only affect one side of the body. Other early signs of Parkinson’s may include sleep problems, loss of smell, and restless legs.

As the disease progresses, symptoms may affect both sides of the body, although one side may be more severe than the other.

Parkinson’s usually affects people over the age of 55, and more commonly affects males.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease, but some research suggests it may also partly be an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body.

According to a 2018 article, a chronic autoimmune attack contributes to the development of Parkinson’s. This autoimmune reaction causes inflammation and the production of immune cells and antibodies, which leads to the death of nerve cells involved in dopamine production.

Understanding the involvement of the immune system in Parkinson’s can help researchers develop new therapies to treat the disease.

Experts are still unclear about the exact cause of Parkinson’s, but believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors may trigger the condition. Some cases may also be hereditary.

These factors may cause the impairment or death of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, which plays an essential part in allowing the body to move as normal.

Researchers are currently investigating genetic factors, such as defective genes, and environmental factors, such as toxins, to understand how they might trigger Parkinson’s.

Certain genes may control cellular processes that play a part in nerve cell damage. Deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein, or Lewy bodies, is a defining characteristic of Parkinson’s.

Learn more about the genetic causes of Parkinson’s.

Risk factors for Parkinson’s include:

  • Genetics: People with a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s are at an increased risk of developing the disease. However, this depends on whether a person inherits the associated genes. Some of the genes related to Parkinson’s include PINK1, PARK, and LRRK2.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to toxins, such as certain pesticides and heavy metals, may increase the risk of Parkinson’s.
  • Age: Older age is a risk factor for Parkinson’s, with an average age of onset of 60 years.
  • Gender: Males, or people assigned male at birth, are more likely to develop Parkinson’s.
  • Head injury: Traumatic brain injury or concussion may increase the risk of Parkinson’s.

Learn more about the risk factors for Parkinson’s.

To diagnose Parkinson’s, a doctor will take a full medical history, assess symptoms, and carry out a physical exam.

There are no laboratory tests for Parkinson’s, but a doctor may carry out tests if they need to rule out any other possible conditions.

These may include blood tests, MRI scans of the brain, or dopamine transporter scans to show how the dopamine system is working.

Learn more about diagnosing Parkinson’s.

Treatments for Parkinson’s disease may help to manage symptoms by balancing brain chemicals and may include medications such as:

In some cases, people may have surgery to help reduce severe symptoms. A surgeon may create controlled damage to specific areas of the brain or implant a deep brain stimulating electrode in the part of the brain that helps control movement.

Learn more about the treatment options for Parkinson’s.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease but treatments can help to manage symptoms.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, which means symptoms worsen over time. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe for each person.

In some cases, symptoms may affect everyday life, while others may only experience minor changes.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about Parkinson’s disease.

Is Parkinson’s disease treated by a neurologist?

People with Parkinson’s disease will usually require a team of healthcare professionals to help them manage the condition.

A neurologist, a doctor specializing in conditions of the brain and nervous system, will be one of the main people involved in treating Parkinson’s.

Other healthcare professionals who may help treat Parkinson’s can include:

  • a person’s regular doctor
  • a physical therapist
  • a speech or occupational therapist
  • mental health professional
  • other specialists, such as a gastroenterologist, if people experience other symptoms of Parkinson’s such as digestive issues

What organs are affected by Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s may affect many organs throughout the body, and cause symptoms such as:

  • digestive problems, such as constipation
  • vision changes, such as double vision or dry eyes
  • urinary problems
  • problems swallowing
  • changes to the skin, such as becoming more oily or dry, and an increased risk of melanoma

What can be misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s?

Other conditions can cause similar symptoms to Parkinson’s, such as multiple system atrophy and Lewy body dementia.

Parkinsonism is a term that doctors use for disorders with different causes that have similar symptoms to Parkinson’s.

Healthcare professionals can reach the right diagnosis by conducting medical tests and recording how well a person responds to medications for Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease, meaning it affects the brain and nervous system.

Changes to dopamine production in areas of the brain that control movement leads to symptoms of Parkinson’s such as movement difficulties, stiffness, and tremor.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s can vary from mild to severe but tend to progress over time. A team of healthcare professionals and treatments such as medications, surgery, and physical therapy can help people to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s.