- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Parkinson's disease

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It's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on
Jerry Lee Lewis

Parkinson’s disease is the most common neurological disease of high age. It is degenerative disorder of the nervous system that usually occurs in middle or later life and has a progressive, prolonged course. It is characterized by masklike facies, a fine, slowly spreading tremor, cogwheel rigidity, bradykinesia, and postural instability with a peculiar gait. The disease is caused by degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain (the extrapyramidal motor system) due to reduced production of dopamine in the substantia nigra. The disease is progressive. It can take 20-30 years or longer until the patient is substantially invalidized, while senses and intellect remain unimpaired. Incidence is about 1-2 per thousand.

It was originally defined by Parkinson as “involuntary tremulus motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported, with a propensity to bend the trunk forward, and to pass from walking to a running pace, the essence of intellect being unaffected.”

The term Parkinson's disease was first used by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893).


  • J. Parkinson:
    An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.
    London, Whittingham & Rowland, 1817.
    Reprinted in Medical Classic, 1938, 2: 946-97. Facsimile edition, with biography of Parkinson by Macdonald Critchley, London, 1955.
    Facsimile reproduction, 1959.

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