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Get the facts about Parkinson’s disease

UF Health Otolaryngology

What do boxing champ Muhammad Ali, actor Michael J. Fox and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno have in common?

They’re among the more than 1 million people in the U.S. who have Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder that progressively worsens. An estimated 60,000 more people will be diagnosed within the next year, and that may only be a portion of the individuals affected by Parkinson’s.

Neurologists suspect many more people are suffering from Parkinson’s, but they don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose. There is no official test to determine if someone has it, but rather physicians conclude it is Parkinson’s when other conditions are ruled out and a patient responds to medication used to manage Parkinson’s. Checking a person for a dopamine deficit can help to reach a diagnosis.

Once a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, there are a lot of questions, and there is a lot of misinformation circulating. University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville Assistant Professor Odinachi Oguh, MD, who specializes in neurology and movement disorders, clears the myths from the facts below:

Myth: Parkinson’s is a disease of the elderly.

Fact: This is probably the biggest myth about Parkinson’s disease. Many patients acquire Parkinson’s while they are still young adults.

“Parkinson’s is usually diagnosed when people are in their 60s, but it can start at a much younger age,” Oguh said.

One of the best-known celebrities with Parkinson’s disease, the actor Michael J. Fox, began experiencing symptoms in his late 20s.

Myth: There is a typical course patients can expect to go through as Parkinson’s progresses.

Fact: No two patients are the same. Parkinson’s is sometimes referred to as a “boutique” disease because everyone progresses differently and experiences different symptoms.

Though the disease may affect one patient much more quickly than another, it is generally seen as a slowly progressing disease. Oguh said a ballpark figure the average patient can expect is to see a 1-2 percent decline each year.

Symptoms can include slowed movement and difficulties in gait and balance. About 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s will experience tremors. Lesser-known symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease include constipation, depression, fatigue and dementia.

Myth: Parkinson’s disease is a death sentence.

Fact: No known cure exists, but Parkinson’s does not cause death. There are ways to manage it and help control symptoms as research continues.

“There have been great strides in research and medical management over the last two decades,” Oguh said.

Some patients are able to manage a lot of their symptoms by using a combination of medications. Others have found relief from deep brain stimulation, which is covered in greater detail below.

Parkinson’s is expected to be managed even better as research continues and new treatments are developed, Oguh said.

“There is an intraduodenal pump coming out this summer that will deliver a continuous supply of medication, similar to what an insulin pump does, allowing better control for advanced Parkinson’s patients who may not be candidates for other treatments like deep brain stimulation.”

She said that should have a huge impact, because medications have a “shelf life” in which they wear off gradually, and a patient’s symptoms begin to return until the next dose. The pump will offer a more controlled release of the medication that will prevent that “yo-yo” effect.

Oguh said there are promising studies looking at the effect some medications typically used to treat diabetes have on Parkinson’s disease progression. One study is even looking at the possibility that nicotine can decrease progression.

Myth: Advanced Parkinson’s patients require invasive brain surgery to manage their condition.

Fact: Some patients will find relief in deep brain stimulation (DBS), which is not as intensive as other types of surgery involving the brain.

“DBS is more of a functional surgery,” Oguh said. “We target electrodes to the basal ganglia. I often refer to DBS as pacemaker of the brain, as in essence this is what the surgery allows us to achieve.”

The patient is awake for the procedure, helping the physician to pinpoint the area that will allow the patient to better manage symptoms, resulting in less of a need for medication and an improved quality of life.

At the UF Health Neuroscience Institute – Jacksonville, the Movement Disorders and Parkinson’s Program features a wide variety of disciplines and services. Offerings include:

  • Medicine management
  • Physical/occupational/speech therapy
  • A nurse coordinator
  • A deep brain stimulation clinic
  • Parkinson’s support groups for patients and their caregivers, with guest speakers, free to UF Health patients and those who go to other facilities.
  • Tai chi and yoga classes designed to address patients’ balance and gait, free to UF Health patients and those who go to other facilities.

The program serves over 400 patients every year.

Learn more at

For the media

Media contact

Dan Leveton
Media Relations Manager (904) 244-3268