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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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What is Parkinson's Disease?
April 2000

Q. What is Parkinson's Disease?

A. Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressive neurologic condition that affects a small area of the brain. This area controls some elements of motion, so the person with Parkinson's disease can demonstrate a resting tremor, a generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia), stiffness of limbs (rigidity); and gait or balance problems (postural dysfunction).

Up to 1.5 million Americans are affected by Parkinson's disease, most of them over 50 years old. The disease is slowly progressive There is no known cure, but there are several treaments. These include a variety of medications (often used in combination). In addition, surgery will offer a very small number of patients some benefits.

One difficult element of Parkinson's disease is that the mind often remains quite sharp, so the person is somewhat imprisoned in a body that doesn't function as well. As such, it is often a very stressful disease for both patients and family. The National Parkinson Foundation web page (http://www.parkinson.org/index.htm) offers excellent insights into Parkinson's disease and provides a very nice list of patient and caregiver resources.

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