What is Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurological illness named after Dr. James Parkinson, a London physician who was the first to describe it in 1817. Although PD affects many different parts of the brain, the hallmark is the gradual loss of cells in a small part of the brain called the substantia nigra.

The loss of these cells produces a reduction in a vital chemical called "dopamine," which causes symptoms that may include shaking hands, slow movement, stiffness, and loss of balance. Other symptoms may include loss of facial expression, reduction in speech volume and clarity, difficulty swallowing, change in size of handwriting, dry skin, constipation, urinary difficulties, and depression.

Because PD is a progressive disorder, these symptoms worsen with time.  Although it causes disability, PD does not appear to significantly shorten the lifespan of its sufferers. PD can be thought of as an illness that people live with, rather than die from.

Who Gets Parkinson’s Disease?


Estimates vary, but it is thought that about one million people in the United States have PD. Although the illness most often affects older individuals, particularly those over the age of 55, PD may also affect people in their 30's and 40's. PD appears to be slightly more common in men than in women.

University of Rochester Parkinson’s Disease Clinic

The Movement and Inherited Neurological Disorders Unit is dedicated to comprehensive patient care of those affected by Parkinson’s disease (PD). Many of our care providers are leading the nation’s research efforts for finding treatments to slow or postpone the onset of PD. Cutting-edge clinical research on the epidemiology of PD, health care delivery and medical and surgical treatment of PD is conducted in our clinic. Evaluation generally includes confirming that the person has true Parkinson’s disease and not a rarer disorder with parkinsonian symptoms but may require different approaches.  Treatment involves medication, as well as assistive devices and teaching patients appropriate coping mechanisms to maximize quality of life. In general, patients do quite well with dopaminergic medications like carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), at least initially.  However, after about 5 years, many people with PD develop symptoms that are refractory to medications such as on-off medication fluctuations with unpredictable freezing as the medication wears off, requiring dosing every 2-3 hours.  People can also develop unpleasant extra movements, called levo-dopa induced dyskinesias, from surges in blood levels of the medications after frequent dosing.   There are medications, such as entacapone, which can be used to reduce these problems. DBS surgery can be an excellent option for patients who do not gain adequate relief of their symptoms with medication. It is estimated that 10% of people with PD develop these kinds of problems and are candidates for DBS.