Parkinson’s Disease

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Find definitions of technical terms in our glossary.

Understanding Parkinsons

If you or someone you love is among the 1 million people in the U.S. and 10 million worldwide living with Parkinsons disease (PD),1 you know how it can affect almost every aspect of life—from doing simple daily tasks like dressing, eating and drinking; to spending quality time with friends, family and community members; to enjoying activities that give your life meaning.

Parkinsons affects more people than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrigs disease combined.1

Although the exact cause of PD is not known, we do know about the parts of the brain involved in PD, certain risk factors and symptoms, and treatment or therapy options like the St. Jude Medical Infinity™ DBS system.

Parkinsons disease, the brain and risk factors

PD is known to affect an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia regulate movement by controlling a balance of chemicals, such as dopamine, and electrical signals between key areas of the brain. When functioning properly, the structures of the basal ganglia make continuous adjustments to meet the needs of the body. When you have PD, certain nerve cells in the basal ganglia responsible for producing dopamine do not function properly, and cells cannot effectively transmit signals that are involvement in movement. As a result, the brain does not coordinate the movements of muscles in different parts of the body.

While 4% of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before age 50, PD becomes more common with increasing age.1

Factors that play a role in your developing PD can include:

  • Age: Most people with PD are diagnosed around age 60 or older.1
  • Sex: Men are more likely to develop PD than women.2
  • Genetics: While most instances of PD are not inherited, a percentage of people with the disease have parents or siblings with PD,1 and several gene mutations or alterations are associated with developing PD.3
  • Environmental causes: Head injury4 and exposure to toxins1 may put a person at risk for developing PD.

Learn more about Parkinsons disease from the Parkinsons Disease Foundation.

Symptoms of Parkinsons disease

When the basal ganglia functions improperly, these symptoms can occur:

  • Shaking (or tremors) when you are at rest
  • Slowed muscle movement (also known as bradykinesia)
  • Muscle stiffening (or rigidity)
  • Changes in speech, walking or balance

While PD can make everyday activities difficult, people living with PD may also experience increased social isolation as a result of uncontrolled symptoms.

Making the most of life

If you have received a PD diagnosis, you and your physician will discuss treatment and therapy options. As your symptoms progress, you both may consider modified or new approaches. The range of options for people with PD can include:

  • Diet and exercise: While no diet or exercise regime has been shown to cure or slow the progression of PD, a well-balanced, nutritional diet, as well as strength-building, aerobic and stretching exercises can enhance your quality of life. Short bursts of high-intensity, vigorous exercise may benefit people with PD.5
  • Medication: Your doctor may choose from a range of medications to manage some of your symptoms. The most effective medication for PD is carbidopal/levodopa, which comes in different preparations, strengths and forms for patients’ differing needs. Other types of prescription medications include dopamine agonists, achticholinergics, MAO-B inhibitors and COMY inhibitors. While medications may effectively help some people with PD, drug therapy may become less effective and inconsistent over time, with some PD patients also increasingly experiencing side effects. Those taking carbidopal/levodopa may experience dyskinesia while those taking inhibitors may experience hallucinations.6
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy: DBS is a personalized and adjustable therapy involving an implanted device that blocks electrical signals from targeted areas in the brain that are responsible for involuntary movements. It is also reversible, which means that the system can be removed or turned off. If your medication or other therapy is not providing you adequate symptom relief, DBS therapy and a system like the St. Jude Medical Infinity™ DBS system may be for you. As with any surgery or therapy, DBS therapy has risks and complications. Learn about the risks and see important safety information for the St. Jude Medical Infinity DBS system.
    • Learn more about managing your PD symptoms with DBS therapy or contact us to ask questions, get answers and sign up to receive the latest news about DBS therapy.

Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice from your physician or other health care providers. You should always talk with your physician about your treatment and any symptoms you are experiencing.


1. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. (2015). Statistics on Parkinson’s. Retrieved from
2. Gillies, G. E., Pienaar, I.S., Bohra, S., & Qamhawi, Z. (2014). Sex differences in Parkinson’s disease. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 35(3), 370-384.
3. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Genetics Home Reference. (2016). Parkinson disease. Retrieved from
4. Harris, M. A., Shen, H., Marion, S. A., Tsui, J. K., & Teschke, K. (2013). Head injuries and Parkinson’s disease in a case-control study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 70(12), 839-844.
5. Michael J. Fox Foundation. Ryerson, N. (2015). Exercising with Parkinson’s disease: Should it be high-intensity? Retrieved from
6. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. (2016). Prescription medications. Retrieved from