Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that can affect several areas of the brain. The area it affects the most is known as the substantia nigra, which is involved with movement. Nerve activity in other areas of the brain can also be affected, contributing to motor and nonmotor symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological condition that can cause problems with movement, coordination, and balance. It’s estimated to affect almost 1 million people in the United States.

PD affects the nervous system. In this article, we’ll look at the ways it impacts the nervous system, what treatments can help, and the general outlook for PD.

In Parkinson’s disease, nerve cells in the brain become damaged and start to die. What exactly causes PD is still unknown. Generally speaking, it’s believed to develop due to a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Indeed, some people with PD show genetic changes that are known to be associated with the condition. However, most people with PD don’t have these genetic changes.

People with PD do have accumulations of abnormal proteins called Lewy bodies in certain nerve cells. The formation or presence of Lewy bodies appears to contribute to PD, likely by disrupting certain processes within these cells, resulting in cell death.

Parkinson’s disease can have a variety of effects on the nervous system. This contributes to the types of symptoms associated with PD.

Motor symptoms

PD can affect several areas of the brain. The area that’s most significantly affected is called the substantia nigra, which is involved in movement.

The nerve cells in this area make a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other.

Dopamine is important for controlling certain aspects of movement. It’s also involved in many other functions like attention, memory, and mood, just to name a few.

In PD, as the nerve cells that make dopamine die, less dopamine is produced. This leads to the characteristic motor symptoms that are associated with PD, such as:

In late-stage PD, the corpus callosum and corticospinal tracts of the brain are sometimes involved. It’s thought that this is due to the chronic changes in motor activity that PD causes. Changes in these areas of the brain can also contribute to motor symptoms.

Nonmotor symptoms

There are other effects of PD on the body, and some are related to the lack of dopamine or Lewy bodies in other brain regions.

Occasionally, Lewy bodies can develop in the cerebral cortex area of the brain, which can contribute to cognitive changes.

The autonomic nervous system manages body functions, including but not limited to blood pressure, urination, and digestion. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in this area of the nervous system, hence PD affects the autonomic nervous system.

Some symptoms may develop more than a decade before the motor symptoms of PD. They can include:

The effects of PD on the brain and nervous system can also contribute to other nonmotor symptoms of PD, such as:

Cognitive dysfunction isn’t always present in everyone with PD, and it’s usually associated with the later stages of the disease.

There’s currently no cure for Parkinson’s. However, treatment can help manage some of the symptoms.

Drugs are typically used to treat PD. The most common types of drugs are those, such as levodopa/carbidopa, that work to replace missing dopamine in the brain.

Drugs that affect other neurotransmitters can also help with the motor symptoms of PD. An example of this is anticholinergic drugs, which reduce the activity of acetylcholine and can ease symptoms like tremors and rigid muscles.

The nonmotor symptoms of PD are harder to treat. In some situations, medications can be used to treat individual symptoms like constipation, sleep troubles, and depression.

Other types of therapies that can help with motor or nonmotor symptoms include:

Deep brain stimulation is another treatment that’s occasionally used for PD. It’s a highly specialized type of brain surgery that’s only recommended in certain situations.

PD is a progressive condition, which means that it gets worse over time. However, it’s difficult to predict how PD will progress in different people with the condition.

Many people with PD will have some degree of disability within 10 years. Additionally, more than 80% of people with PD develop dementia, particularly in the condition’s later stages.

Research has found that mortality is only slightly increased in people with PD compared with the general population. However, life expectancy may be reduced in people who receive a diagnosis prior to age 70.

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the nervous system. In PD, nerve cells in the brain become damaged and begin to die off. The reason why some people develop the condition isn’t fully known.

The main area of the brain that’s affected by PD is involved in movement. As such, the common symptoms of PD are motor symptoms like tremors, slow movements, and rigid muscles.

The disease can affect other areas of the brain and nervous system. These effects are very diverse and can include digestive and urinary problems, cognitive dysfunction, and trouble with sleep.

PD is a progressive condition for which there’s no cure. However, treatment can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life.