What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to tremor, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.
Parkinson’s symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. They may also have mental and behavioural changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue.
Men are slightly more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.
The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery.
Parkinsonism is an umbrella term that encompasses Parkinson’s disease itself, as well as other conditions that cause motor symptoms similar to those seen in Parkinson’s, like tremor, stiffness of muscles, and slowness of movement (bradykinesia).
Types of Parkinsonism
What are the different forms of parkinsonism?
Most people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have parkinsonism, better known simply as Parkinson’s disease. This type is also sometimes called idiopathic Parkinson’s, meaning that the specific cause of the disease is unknown. This type tends to respond well to medicines, such as levodopa and its derivates, that work by increasing or substituting dopamine molecules in the brain.
Its onsets is generally between the ages of 55 and 65 and rarely occurs before the age of 50. Parkinson’s onsets gradually as cells in the substantia nigra die and dopamine levels drop. It’s thought genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.
Vascular parkinsonism (also known as arteriosclerotic parkinsonism) is thought to be caused by multiple small strokes in the area of your brain that control movement. It can lead to similar symptoms as Parkinson’s but tends to mostly affect the lower body. However, stroke symptoms tend to appear suddenly and do not progress, whereas the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear gradually and get worse over time. Vascular parkinsonism usually affects the legs more than the upper part of the body.
Certain medications, most notably some antipsychotics, can cause a person to develop Parkinson’s-like symptoms as a side effect. Next to primary Parkinson’s disease, this is the most common type of parkinsonism. Drug-induced parkinsonism may be difficult to distinguish from Parkinson’s disease, but symptoms will generally improve in the weeks or months after the use of the medication has stopped.
Multiple system atrophy (MSA)
Multiple system atrophy (MSA)
Like Parkinson’s, MSA can cause stiffness and slowness of movement in the early stages.
However, people with MSA can also develop symptoms that are unusual in early Parkinson’s, such as unsteadiness, falls, bladder problems and dizziness.
It may be that these people have what is termed ‘Parkinsonism’ or ‘atypical Parkinson’s’ or ‘Parkinson’s Plus’. These are all terms to describe a situation where someone has some Parkinson’s type symptoms but also has additional symptoms and the change in their symptoms is more rapid than in Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are much rarer than Parkinson’s Disease. Like Parkinson’s Disease there is no actual test that can prove the diagnosis, but the doctors can pick up subtle signs that things are different.
For more information on multiple symptom atrophy, read this fact sheet.
For more information and support on MSA in Ireland please contact