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Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease Definition

A person sat on the edge of a bed. They are holding their right wrist with their left hand. The fingers of their right hand are spread out.

A neurological condition that causes impairments in movement; notably tremor, rigidity and slowing of actions. Sometimes shortened to PD, it is caused by the loss of specific neurons in the movement pathways within the brain. In addition to movement impairments, people are commonly affected by non-motor symptoms such as cognitive impairment, sleep disruption, and mood and anxiety issues, to name a few.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a condition of the brain that causes a resting tremor which is typically worse in one side compared to the other. It is a neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure and typically increases in severity with time. Currently available medications which target dopaminergic pathways (a pathway in the brain where the predominant signalling molecule is dopamine) have been a success for Parkinson’s disease treatment. However, some patients are affected by treatment-resistant motor symptoms, treatment induced movement disorders, and non-motor symptoms for which there are limited therapeutic options.

Parkinson’s disease is most common in adult males over the age of 50 and globally the number of individuals with Parkinson’s disease is estimated to double between 2005 to 2030 (source: Dorsey EA, Constantinescu R, Thompson JP, Biglan KM, Holloway RG, Kieburtz K, Marshall FJ, Ravina BM, Schifitto G, Siderowf A, Tanner CM. Projected number of people with Parkinson disease in the most populous nations, 2005 through 2030. Neurology. 2007 Jan 30;68(5):384-6.)

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown but the disease is defined by a loss of dopaminergic (or dopamine containing) nerve cells in the substantia nigra part of the brain. The substantia nigra is a part of a group of structures called the basal ganglia, which play an essential role in the co-ordination of movement.

In addition, people with Parkinson’s disease also contain abnormal build-up of protein in structures called Lewy bodies.

Whilst it is more common in people over the age of 50, there are cases of people under 50 being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Is Parkinson’s Disease Hereditary?

Genetics can play a role in developing the disease, however direct genetic inheritance of Parkinson’s disease from a parent is rare.

Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

The image shows part of a person sitting on a bench, they have their arms out in front of them, with their hands reaching for a walking stick.

Parkinson’s symptoms may start off mild and often begin with resting tremors of the hands. Typically symptoms are worse on one side compared to the other. Additional Parkinson’s disease symptoms may follow later including:

  • Slowed movements
  • Stiff muscles
  • Posture and balance impairment, leading to falls
  • Loss of autonomic nervous responses leading to urinary symptoms and drops in blood pressure going from sitting to standing
  • A change in speech, often speech becomes slurred
  • A change in or loss of ability to write
  • Disorders of sleep
  • Mood or anxiety disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Dementia

Types of Parkinsonism

  • Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease: The most common type for which the cause is unknown. Symptoms are tremors, muscle rigidity, and slowness of movement.
  • Vascular Parkinsonism: Affects those with restricted blood flow to the brain, sometimes people who have had a mild stroke develop this type of Parkinsonism. Symptoms include problems with memory, sleep, mood, and movement.
  • Drug-induced Parkinsonism: Caused by prescription drugs taken to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Drug-induced Parkinsonism is not a degenerative form of Parkinsonism and typically symptoms go away upon stopping the drug causing symptoms.
  • Lewy Body Dementia: A type of dementia caused by the build-up of proteins in the brain that has some similar symptoms to Parkinson’s disease.
  • Multiple System Atrophy (MSA): A rare condition that causes symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. The damage to parts of the nervous system controlling functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and perspiration is more common in sufferers of MSA.
  • Progressive Supranuclear Palsy: As with MSA, symptoms of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, but additional features differentiate it from idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH): Triggered by an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricles or cavities, NPH is a cause of Parkinsonism.

How is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed?

Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is given based upon symptoms, medical history, and full physical examination carried out by a healthcare professional; there isn’t a test for the disease. It can be hard to diagnose at the onset as early signs of Parkinson’s disease are normally very mild.

For those with atypical features of Parkinson’s Plus syndromes MRI brain and functional neuroimaging may be performed.

Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

A medical professional sits on a stool, consulting with a person sat in a wheelchair.

There is not a cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are treatment options to reduce symptoms and slow progression. Parkinson’s treatments include:

  • Physiotherapy to strengthen muscles, improve posture and support balance
  • Prescription medications (L-DOPA, with additional modulatory therapies, being the gold standard for Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism more broadly)
  • Surgery where appropriate

Parkinson’s Disease and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on Parkinson’s disease is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for Parkinson’s disease.

For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our award-winning Curaleaf Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Parkinson’s Disease

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Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of dopamine containing nerve cells in the part of the brain that plays an essential role in the co-ordination of movement, and an abnormal build-up of protein in structures called Lewy bodies.

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There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatments such as prescription medication and physical therapies can help to reduce symptoms.

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Males over the age of 50 are most commonly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, however, cases have been diagnosed in people under this age. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s with cases in men being 45% more common than cases in women (source

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The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:

  • A resting tremor in the hands or arms (may also be present in the legs, jaw, or head)
  • Muscle stiffness, the feeling of which may resemble cramp and leave the sufferer in pain even when the cramping has eased
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination, which may lead to falls
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Parkinsonism in an umbrella term for different conditions which cause the core features which are also seen in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease, specifically, is caused by the loss of specific nerve fibres containing dopamine and an abnormal build-up of protein in structures called Lewy bodies. The other causes of parkinsonism include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Vascular disease
  • Side effects of medications
  • Chronic head trauma
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Toxins that affect the brain
  • Other neurological diseases
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There is no test that can detect Parkinson’s disease. Healthcare professionals will review an individual’s medial history and symptoms as well as a performing a full physical examination to determine whether their patient has developed Parkinson’s.

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Treatment options vary from person to person and will depend on the type of Parkinsonism. Physical therapy, prescription medication, and surgery can all be considered when looking at treatment options for Parkinson’s disease.