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Parkinson's 101

There is no simple way to deal with the life-changing event of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. The good news: Most people find acceptance and quality of life after the initial adjustment period.

What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) occurs when brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working or die. Because PD can cause tremor, slowness, stiffness, and walking and balance problems, it is called a “movement disorder.” But constipation, depression, memory problems and other non-movement symptoms also can be part of Parkinson’s. PD is a lifelong and progressive disease, which means that symptoms slowly worsen over time.

The experience of living with Parkinson's over the course of a lifetime is unique to each person. As symptoms and progression vary from person to person, neither you nor your doctor can predict which symptoms you will get, when you will get them or how severe they will be. Even though broad paths of similarity are observed among individuals with PD as the disease progresses, there is no guarantee you will experience what you see in others.

Estimates suggest that Parkinson’s affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and more than 6 million people worldwide.

For an in-depth guide to navigating Parkinson’s disease and living well as the disease progresses, check out our Parkinson’s 360 toolkit.

What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Dr. Rachel Dolhun, a movement disorder specialist and vice president of medical communications at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, breaks down the basics of Parkinson's.

  • What Causes Parkinson's Disease?

    Researchers believe that in most people, Parkinson's is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

  • How Is Parkinson’s Diagnosed?

    Doctors use your medical history and physical examination to diagnose Parkinson's disease (PD). No blood test, brain scan or other test can be used to make a definitive diagnosis of PD.

  • What Are the Symptoms?

    The symptoms of Parkinson’s and their degree of severity are different for every person. 

  • How Is Parkinson’s Treated?

    Medications are available to lessen Parkinson's movement and non-movement symptoms, making it possible for people to lead fulfilling and productive lives for many years.

  • Will My Children Get Parkinson's?

    Not necessarily. While a small percentage of Parkinson’s cases are caused by a single genetic mutation, the large majority are not.

  • Could It Be Another Disease?

    Early in the disease process, it may be difficult to know whether symptoms indicate Parkinson's or a disease that looks like it.

  • How Can I Help Speed a Cure?

    Whether you have Parkinson's, or are touched by the disease in another way, every single person can play a role in the search for a cure.

More questions? Check out our Resources for the Newly Diagnosed. 

The medical information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has a policy of refraining from advocating, endorsing or promoting any drug therapy, course of treatment, or specific company or institution. It is crucial that care and treatment decisions related to Parkinson's disease and any other medical condition be made in consultation with a physician or other qualified medical professional.

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