The diagnosis of Parkinson's disease can cause fear, anxiety, anger and disappointment for the individual and the entire family. Often, the diagnosis is accompanied by little or no information about the disease, prognosis, or its management.


Although there is a wide variation in the way the disease presents between individuals, the four cardinal motor symptoms are:

  • Tremor (shaking)
  • Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
  • Rigidity (stiffness)
  • Difficulty with balance

Initially, symptoms can be a variable combination of tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity and postural instability. Symptoms typically begin on one side of the body and spread over time to the other side.


When at least two of these symptoms are present, a diagnosis of PD is suspected. Although there is no FDA approved diagnostic test for Parkinson’s yet, doctors will often prescribe medications that are taken to manage symptoms as a means of “confirming” their suspicion.

Secondary Motor Symptoms

Other secondary motor symptoms may include:

  • Small, cramped handwriting
  • Stiff facial expression
  • Shuffling walk
  • Muffled speech
  • Decreased eye blinking and arm swinging while walking.

As symptoms come on gradually, older patients may attribute these changes to aging. The tremor is thought to be “shakiness,” bradykinesia is regarded as normal “slowing down,” and stiffness is attributed to arthritis. The stooped posture, common to PD, may be attributed to age or osteoporosis. Both younger and older patients may experience initial symptoms for a year or more before seeking medical evaluation.

In addition to the motor symptoms, there are a number of symptoms that are not related to movement that can be an aspect of the disease also. Many of these symptoms can begin years before the motor symptoms become apparent. Non-motor symptoms that are associated with Parkinson’s disease can involve:

  • Mood regulation (depression and anxiety)
  • Cognitive ability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Autonomic functions

For many people, these non-motor symptoms can be more problematic than the motor symptoms and have a greater impact on maintaining their quality of life. Unfortunately, these non-motor symptoms are not improved by medications most often prescribed for PD.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. There are between 1 and 1.5 million Americans living with Parkinson's disease.

A study published in the January 15, 2010 issue of Neuroepidemiology1 reported some previously unknown information on the incidence2 and prevalence3 of Parkinson's disease in the United States. Allison Wright Willis, MD and others at the Washington University School of Medicine discovered in the largest epidemiological study of Parkinson's disease in the United States that the disease is more common in the Midwest and the Northeast and is twice as likely to occur in whites and Hispanics as it is in blacks and Asians. Other interesting findings were:

  • PD affects approximately 1.6% of the American population over the age of 65
  • Approximately 60,000 people are newly diagnosed in the U.S. each year
  • Men are more likely to have the disease than women (1.55:1.0)
  • Asian women seem to have the lowest incidence rates in the U.S.
  • Prevalence and annual incidence of PD appears to increase with age without plateau (as previously suspected in some reports)

If you or your loved ones need information on PD, our staff can help you or refer you to someone who can answer your question.

The foundation is located at 575 Lincoln Avenue, in Pittsburgh's North Hills (15202). Our phone number is 412.837.2542.


[1] Wright Willis A, Evanoff BA, Lian M, Criswell SR, Racette BA. Geographic and ethnic variation in Parkinson's disease: a population-based study of US Medicare beneficiaries. Neuroepidemiology, 2010;34:143-151

[2] Incidence is the number of new cases per population in a given time period

[3] Prevalence is the total number of cases of a Parkinson's disease present in a given population at a given time.

Incidence conveys information about the risk of contracting the disease, whereas prevalence indicates how widespread the disease is. For example, consider a disease that takes a long time to cure, and that was spread widely in 2002, but whose spread was arrested in 2003. This disease will have a high prevalence and a high incidence in 2002; but in 2003 it will have a low incidence, although it will continue to have a high prevalence because the number of affected individuals remains high. In contrast, a disease that has a short duration may have a low prevalence and a high incidence.