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​Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder, meaning it affects parts of the brain that control body movement (motor function).

It leads to shaking (tremors) and difficulty with:

  • Walking
  • Talking
  • Coordination

Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common nervous system disorders among elderly patients and worsens with age. It is most common in people over age 50.

Although there is no cure, several treatment options can help control symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and allow you to live independently for many years.

People whose symptoms do not respond well to medication may be candidates for deep brain stimulation at UPMC.

Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease

To diagnose Parkinson's disease, your doctor will ask for your medical history and perform a physical exam, looking for:

  • Difficulty starting or finishing voluntary movements
  • Jerky, stiff movements
  • Loss of muscle tissue (muscle atrophy)
  • Changes in your heart rate

Additional tests may be required to rule out other diseases, especially if symptoms are mild or the patient is elderly.

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease symptoms may be mild at first, then worsen as the disease progresses and the person ages.

Symptoms can occur either on one side of the body or on both sides, and may include:

  • Slow blinking
  • Constipation
  • Drooling or difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble writing or eating
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • No facial expression (as if wearing a mask)
  • Muscle aches and pains, or stiff muscles (especially legs)
  • Shaking (tremors) that may go away when you move
  • Speaking differently, such as slower or quieter
  • Stooped position
  • Low blood pressure when getting up, sweating, drooling, lack of body temperature control (autonomic dysfunction)

Parkinson's Disease Treatments

Parkinson’s disease, like many movement disorders, can be treated but not cured. As medical researchers continue to search for a cure, clinical experts at UPMC offer many state-of-the-art treatments to alleviate the symptoms and allow patients to lead fuller, more independent lives.


Drugs can help treat the tremors and stiffness associated with Parkinson’s disease by changing the brain’s chemistry, mainly by increasing dopamine levels. Your doctors will work closely with you to monitor your response to medication and any side effects.

As the disease progresses, drugs for movement-related symptoms generally become a less effective treatment option.

Other medications may be prescribed to address:

  • Cognitive problems (difficulty thinking or remembering)
  • Depression and mood disorders
  • Pain
  • Autonomic dysfunction
  • Sleep disorders

Deep brain stimulation

UPMC is a leader in treating movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease with deep brain stimulation (DBS), and now offers both standard and MRI-guided asleep DBS, depending on your condition.

Deep brain stimulation delivers electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the nerve signals that cause abnormal movement. Deep brain stimulation gives significant benefit in about 70 percent of people who undergo the procedure.

Gamma Knife® radiosurgery

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a painless procedure that uses hundreds of highly focused radiation beams to target deep brain regions to create precise functional lesions within the brain, with no surgical incision. Gamma Knife may be a treatment option for patients with Parkinson’s tremor who are high risk for surgery due to medical conditions or advanced age.

As the nation's leading provider of Gamma Knife procedures, UPMC has treated more than 12,000 patients with tumors, vascular malformations, pain, and other functional problems.