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Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive movement disorder that affects the body’s ability to control movement.

The condition is a result of damage to brain cells that produce dopamine, which relays messages to the parts of the brain that control movement.

Primary symptoms of Parkinson’s include the following:

  • Trembling of limbs, hands and face (tremor)
  • Stiffness of limbs and the body’s core (rigidity)
  • Slow movements
  • Poor balance and coordination

Parkinson's disease: what you should know

  • Many patients have Parkinson’s disease for 10 to 25 years before they develop serious complications.
  • Regular exercise can help with many of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Our clinicians collaborate with physical therapists who have expertise in Parkinson’s disease.
  • The first medication or treatment decision for Parkinson’s is crucial: Because different medications can alter the brain’s chemicals in a variety of ways, it is important to receive an initial assessment or second opinion by experts in the field such as those at Rush.

How can I find out if I have Parkinson’s disease?

  • Early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Very early signs can be present but are often subtle. If detected and linked to Parkinson’s, the following early signs could help our doctors prevent future deterioration:
    • Loss of sense of smell
    • Chronic constipation
    • Physically acting out dreams at night, a sleep disorder known as REM behavior disorder
  • Expert diagnosis. Our doctors treat a high volume of Parkinson’s disease patients, giving them extensive experience confirming or providing a diagnosis. To diagnose Parkinson’s disease, our doctors use some of the following tests:
    • Detailed health and family history, including discussion of prior treatments (for a second opinion)
    • Neurologic exam, including an assessment of thinking and memory (cognition), movement, sensation, gait and balance
    • Manual motor testing: Patients are asked to perform motor tasks, such as tapping their index fingers to their thumbs repetitively
    • Videotaping: When diagnosing Parkinsons’, our doctors carefully review a videotaped session of the patient to determine whether certain movements that are characteristic of Parkinson’s are present.

Care for Parkinson’s disease at Rush

Making appointments quickly. For newly diagnosed patients not on any medication, our doctors offer special appointments to get into our center quickly. The first medication or treatment decision is very important: Many clinical trials of potential new treatments are only available for patients who have not started any other medications.

Preserving quality of life. Clinicians at Rush approach treatment holistically, working with patients to make sure your quality of life is preserved in a variety of ways:

  • Work with you to individualize your medication regimen to your needs
  • Connect you to experts in exercise, physical therapy and occupational therapy for Parkinson’s, which can help improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength, motor coordination and your ability to perform daily activities
  • Provide psychiatrists and neuropsychologists who specialize in Parkinson’s for help coping with depression and other mental health issues
  • Connect you to experts for autonomic issues (those involving involuntary actions of the body), including urinary dysfunction, dizziness or blood pressure changes.
  • Offer monthly support groups, including a separate support group for patients under 50 who have Parkinson’s disease (known as young onset)

Surgical options. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical approach that may help people who, although responsive to medication, struggle with fluctuations in their dopamine levels (and therefore their function) throughout the day. In DBS, a neurostimulator delivers tiny electrical signals to areas of the brain that allow for more consistent movement control in patients.

Why choose Rush for Parkinson’s disease care

  • Neurologists at Rush were involved in establishing and testing the criteria by which Parkinson’s is diagnosed, giving them extensive experience in detecting the signs of Parkinson’s disease.
  • The movement disorders team at Rush is one of the largest such groups in the world, with clinicians who specialize in different elements of the disease, including Parkinson’s-related hallucinations and sleep disturbances.
  • Clinicians at Rush continuously research new treatments for Parkinson’s disease and can frequently offer clinical trial opportunities not otherwise widely available. See frequently asked questions about Parkinson’s disease.

Departments and Programs That Treat This Condition

A neurologist at Rush who specializes in movement disorders predicts there will be significant breakthroughs over the next decade in treating Parkinson's disease and slowing the progression of the disease.

Hear doctors at Rush describe life-changing treatments for Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.