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Parkinson's disease , paralysis agitans, also called paralysis agitans. A slowly growing disorder caused by damage to brain cells. Symptoms include tremors that occur while at rest, "pill rolling" movements of the fingers, and a masklike face. Other symptoms are a shuffling gait, a slightly bent posture, rigid muscles, and weakness. It is usually a disease of unknown cause (idiopathic) affecting persons over 60 years of age. However, it may occur in younger persons, especially following brain swelling (encephalitis) or poisoning by carbon monoxide, metals, or some drugs. Parkinson's disease patients may drool, have a heavy appetite, be unable to stand heat, have oily skin, be emotionally unstable, and have judgment problems. The symptoms are made worse by tiredness, excitement, and frustration. It rarely damages the ability to think and reason. Treatment of the disease is to correct the imbalance in some brain substances (dopamine, acetylcholine). A substance that is changed to dopamine in the body (levodopa) may be used. However, side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, inability to sleep, blood pressure problems, and mental confusion may occur. A mixed drug (carbidopa-levodopa) causes fewer side effects. Patients with the disease are told to continue to work and stay active as long as possible. To prevent the spine from bending forward, they should lie on their back on a firm mattress and walk with their hands folded behind their back. Hand tremor while at rest is less noticed if the patient grasps the arms of the chair when seated. Some patients may be treated by cutting the nerve or injecting alcohol to destroy the affected parts of the brain and to relieve rigid muscles or tremors

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Excerpted from Mosby's Medical Encyclopedia
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