April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

The Discovery of Parkinson’s

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), in 1817, a 62-year-old British physician, Dr. James Parkinson, wrote a case series about six individuals who had developed a distressing disease that had “not yet obtained a place in the classification of nosologists.”* “Parkinson’s disease,” as Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot would first term it, did not “appear to have engaged the general notice of the profession” according to Dr. Parkinson. While ancient Indian and Chinese texts reference features of Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Parkinson was likely describing something novel, something that a senior physician would find noteworthy.

For most of history, Parkinson’s disease was a rare disorder. In 1855, 40 years after Dr. Parkinson first described the condition, approximately 22 people of 15 million in England and Wales died of the condition. In 2014, roughly 5,000 to 10,000 individuals of 65 million in the United Kingdom suffered the same fate. In less than two centuries, a rare disorder became common.

Today, estimates suggest that Parkinson’s affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and more than 6 million people worldwide. It’s believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The loss of dopaminergic neurons in the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra is the main finding in Parkinson’s disease. Environmental risk factors associated with PD include head injury, exposure to pesticides and other factors. Genetics cause about 10-15 percent of all Parkinson’s and scientists have discovered dozens of gene mutations linked to Parkinson’s.

Organizations such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation are dedicated to finding a cure through funded research and development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today. There are sponsored outdoor events all around the country to support Parkinson’s research such as the 30th 2024 Parkinson’s Unity Walk on April 27, 2024, in New York City’s Central Park. Visit the foundation if you or a loved one are interested in learning more about supporting a Parkinson’s event near you.

* Nosology is the branch of medicine that deals with classification of disease.