• Consumer Health: Parkinson’s disease — are you at risk?

an older couple seated at a table in a sunny room, eating and smiling at one another

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn about the causes and risk factors of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. People with Parkinson's disease can experience tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, loss of automatic movements, speech and writing changes, and impaired posture and balance. An estimated 1 million people in the U.S. and more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association.

In Parkinson's disease, certain nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, gradually break down or die. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes atypical brain activity, leading to impaired movement and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Causes and risk factors

The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including:

  • Genes
    Researchers have identified specific genetic changes that can cause Parkinson's disease. But these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson's disease. However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson's disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson's disease for each of these genetic markers.
  • Environmental triggers
    Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson's disease, but the risk is small.

Risk factors for Parkinson's disease include:

  • Age
    Young adults rarely experience Parkinson's disease. It ordinarily begins in middle or later life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease when they are 60 or older.
  • Heredity
    Having a close relative with Parkinson's disease increases the chances that you'll develop the disease. However, your risks are still small, unless you have many relatives in your family with Parkinson's disease.
  • Sex
    Men are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than women.
  • Exposure to toxins
    Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides can slightly increase your risk of Parkinson's disease.


There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications can help control the symptoms, often dramatically. If you've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, you'll need to work closely with your health care professional to find a treatment plan that offers you the greatest relief from symptoms with the fewest side effects. In more advanced cases, surgery may be advised.

Connect with others talking about living with Parkinson's or caring for someone in the Parkinson's Disease support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.

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