Over 1 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease (PD). More than 60,000 patients are newly diagnosed each year. Although PD typically strikes individuals at about 60 years of age, in some cases PD begins earlier in life. The first sign of PD is usually subtle fatigue, discomfort, or shakiness. With advancing disease, memory lapses, depression and a “masked” or expressionless face become common. Additional symptoms include trembling, stiff/sore muscles, loss of spontaneous movement, difficulty swallowing and impaired coordination.
PD is caused by a loss of brain cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Normally, these neurons produce “dopamine,” an essential chemical messenger in the brain. Once damaged, these neurons stop producing dopamine and compromise the brain’s ability to control movement. There is no way to prevent or cure PD. The most widely used drug, levodopa increases dopamine. However, the drug may cause side effects and over time loses effectiveness.