Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(12):2055-2056

See related article on Parkinson's disease.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease causes your brain to make less of a chemical called dopamine (DOPE-uh-meen). This affects how your brain controls your body movements.

Who gets it?

Parkinson’s disease is more common in older people. Some people younger than 40 years can get it, especially if it runs in the family. You can’t catch it from other people.

How can I tell if I have Parkinson’s disease?

You may have tremors (shaking) in your hands. You also may have stiffness in your body. It may be hard to move quickly or walk. These symptoms may be worse on one side of your body. As time goes by, you may fall more easily.

If you have Parkinson’s disease, your handwriting may be hard to read and smaller than usual, and it may be difficult for you to turn over in bed, open jars, and stand up from your chair. You also may have problems swallowing, going to the bathroom, and sleeping.

How will my doctor know if I have it?

There is no test that can tell for sure if you have it. Your doctor may ask you questions, give you an exam, and watch you walk and do simple tasks. Your doctor may give you medicine to see if you get better or may take a scan of your brain to rule out other problems. You may have to see a specialist for more tests.

How is Parkinson’s disease treated?

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and no treatment to prevent it. But there are treatments that can help with the symptoms.

Your doctor may give you medicine that replaces or acts like dopamine in your brain. You may need to use more than one medicine. Ask your doctor what medicine is best for you.

If medicine doesn’t work, you may need surgery. Your doctor can also give you advice on how you can stay more active and comfortable.

Where can I get more information?

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