Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system affecting more than 1.5 million people in the United States. Clinically, the disease is characterized by a decrease in spontaneous movements, difficulty walking, postural instability, rigidity and tremor.

Parkinson's disease is caused by the degeneration of the pigmented neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain, resulting in decreased dopamine availability. The major symptoms of the disease were originally described in 1817 by an English physician, Dr. James Parkinson, who called it "Shaking Palsy." It was not until the 1960's, however, that pathological and biochemical changes in the brain of patients were identified, opening the way for the creation of carbidopa-levadopa, the first effective medication for controlling the symptoms of the disease.

Men and women are equally affected. The frequency of the disease is considerably higher in people over the age of 60, even though there is an alarming increase in people of younger age. In consideration of the increased life expectancy in this country and worldwide, more people will develop Parkinson's disease.  


The symptoms of Parkinson's disease may begin so gradually that people may not even be aware they have the disease. While some may feel they have symptoms, they often do not get checked by a physician until the symptoms become very pronounced.

Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s Disease share similar symptoms but Parkinsonism is a separate syndrome and may require a different course of testing and treatment. Whichever the case, it is especially important to see a neurologist at the earliest onset of symptoms.

A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is made when a person shows at least 2 of the primary symptoms of the disease, which include:

  • Rigidity
  • Tremor
  • Slow Movement (bradykinesia)
  • Loss of Movement (akinesia)
  • Difficulty with balance and walking
  • Fixed facial expression
  • Gradual loss of spontaneous movement
  • Changed handwriting
  • Decrease in voice volume
  • Disturbances in gait
  • Constipation
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Depression
  • Inability to initiate bodily movement
  • A tendency to "freeze" in bodily movement

Treatment Options

  • Evaluations: Comprehensive evaluation for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment
  • Clinical research trials: Access to breakthrough clinical trials specifically developed for people with Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders
  • Advanced diagnostic imaging
    • High-Field MRI
    • DaTscan testing
    • High-speed 64-slice CT scanner
    • MIBG nuclear scan
  • Patient navigation: Trained neuroscience professionals who provide support, education and resources to people with Parkinson’s disease & movement disorders.
  • Support Groups & Exercise Classes: Orange Coast Medical Center is pleased to offer patient and carepartner support groups, exercises classes, physical therapy, and speech therapy.
  • Medication Management 
    • Carbidopa-levodopa is the leading pharmaceutical treatment for Parkinson's disease. Levodopa converts to dopamine, compensating for its decreased availability in the brains of people with Parkinson’s. The addition of carbidopa allows for levodopa to be tolerated in higher concentrations by reducing potential side effects like nausea and dyskinesia. In addition, new drugs have recently been approved, offering a wider choice of medications for people with Parkinson’s. Worldwide research is currently being done to develop medications with even better therapeutic results and fewer side effects.
  • Leading Minimally-Invasive & Surgical Treatment Options:
    • MR-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS): A minimally invasive procedure to alleviate tremor associated with Essential Tremor and Tremor-Dominant Parkinson’s disease. MRgFUS uses ultrasound waves to create a small lesion in the thalamus to interrupt irregular electrical signals that cause hand tremors. During the procedure, an MRI is used to obtain detailed images of the brain anatomy to guide and control the treatment, allowing the neurosurgeon to pinpoint, direct and continuously monitor the treatment area while not affecting the surrounding healthy tissue of the brain. Results are immediate and research shows results last for at least 5 years.
    • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS): Uses implanted electrodes controlled by a neurostimulator to block abnormal nerve signals that are causing essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Before the electrodes are placed, an MRI and CT scan are performed to pinpoint the precise area of the brain for treatment. Once placed, the electrodes can be individually adjusted to control essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease symptoms.