6 Surprising Facts About Parkinson's Disease

  • Rear view of three generation females walking on street at park
    Parkinson’s Disease Facts You May Not Know
    Many people think of Parkinson’s disease (PD) as an “old person’s” condition, but even young adults can develop this progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes tremors, stiffness and, ultimately, can take a person’s ability to speak or eat. Researchers continue to explore exactly what causes Parkinson’s and to develop new treatments, including the use of “designer DNA” drugs. Learn more surprising facts about Parkinson’s disease, its early-onset symptoms, and new treatments that provide hope for a cure.

  • Young woman
    1. Parkinson’s disease can begin in early adulthood.
    Although PD primarily affects people older than 60, people as young as 21 can develop it. The risk of developing early-onset Parkinson’s may be higher in people with family members who had PD. Researchers have not established that PD is hereditary, but Parkinson’s is known to appear across multiple generations of a family sometimes. The symptoms of early PD can include tremor or muscle stiffness.

    If you experience Parkinson’s symptoms (no matter your age), contact your doctor for an evaluation. Physicians diagnose Parkinson’s based on the neurological signs and symptoms of the disease. Since there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s disease, your family’s medical history is an important part of the diagnosis, especially early-onset PD.

  • male doctor evaluating female patient's writing
    2. Small handwriting is an early sign of PD.
    Many people associate Parkinson’s disease with its characteristic hand tremor, but there are many other signs. Micrographia—a handwriting change in which the letters of words become smaller and more compact—can be an early hallmark of PD. If your handwriting has changed, or if you have trouble holding a writing instrument due to muscle weakness or tremor, discuss the possibility of Parkinson’s disease with your doctor.
  • closeup image of hands with hand tremor
    3. Hand tremor alone does not necessarily indicate PD.
    Many other diseases and disorders can cause symptoms similar to PD, so you need not panic if you develop a hand tremor. Another possible culprit for a shaky hand is a benign condition called essential tremor (ET). This disorder can cause trembling of the hands, arms, head, tongue and even voice. But ET is not a progressive neurodegenerative disorder like PD. Essential Tremor tends to progress very slowly and exert no effect on brain cells or cognition the way PD does.
  • Woman suffering from pain in abdomen with glass of water and bottle of pills in foreground
    4. Chronic constipation can be a sign of PD.
    Millions of people experience chronic constipation due to a lack of fiber or water in their diet. But if you eat plenty of high-fiber foods like beans, greens, and whole grains but still find you strain to produce a bowel movement, you should mention that to your doctor. Constipation can be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, though your doctor may want to change your diet or medicines (if applicable) to rule out other, more common reasons for constipation before going down a diagnostic path toward PD.

  • scientists working in the laboratory looking at data on computer screen
    5. Designer DNA may provide a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
    PD causes a loss of dopamine-producing neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Thanks to a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease genetics, researchers recently discovered a method to stimulate new growth of dopamine-producing neurons by using “designer DNA.” The method employs a non-infectious virus to deliver a man-made segment of DNA directly to cells in the midbrain. The designer DNA prevents the targeted brain cells from producing a specific protein, which in turn stimulates neuron growth. Early results in mice populations proved so spectacular that researchers hope to test the treatment in human beings eventually.
  • microelectrode recording on brain MRI for deep brain stimulation for parkinson's disease
    6. New PD research includes tests of supplements and devices.
    Although treatment for Parkinson’s disease has not progressed significantly for many years, researchers continue to study new ways to treat PD and the symptoms it causes. Hundreds of clinical studies around the globe currently are investigating new treatments for PD, such as new devices for deep brain stimulation, dietary supplements for non-motor symptoms of PD, and intravenous drugs for PD. With so much research attention on Parkinson’s disease, people who have PD can remain hopeful for better treatments on the horizon.
6 Surprising Facts About Parkinson's Disease

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Parkinson’s Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/parkinsonsdisease.html
  2. Parkinson’s Disease: Hope Through Research. U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Parkinsons-Disease-Hope-Through-Research
  3. 10 Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Foundation. https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/10-early-warning-signs
  4. Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. American Parkinson Disease Association. https://www.apdaparkinson.org/what-is-parkinsons/early-onset-parkinsons-disease/
  5. Essential Tremor. National Organization for Rare Disorders. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/essential-tremor/
  6. Qian H, Kang X, Hu J, et al. One-Time Treatment Generates New Neurons, Eliminates Parkinson’s Disease in Mice. Nature. 2020 Jun;582(7813):550-556. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2388-4. Epub 2020 Jun 24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32581380/

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 10
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