Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to a special kind of nerve cells (neurons) in a specific part of the brain that produces a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine sends messages throughout the body to help control movement. In people with Parkinson’s disease, these neurons produce less and less dopamine. As a result, controlling movement and carrying out other tasks gets increasingly difficult. The cause of the damage to these neurons is not known.
The strongest risk factors for Parkinson’s disease are age and family history.
Parkinson’s disease is more common as you age. In the United States, it is most common among people in their 70s and 80s. Roughly one in every 500 adults in this age group has Parkinson’s disease. About 10-15% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a parent or sibling who also has or had the disease. Some studies have reported that Parkinson’s disease is more common in men than in women, but other studies have not shown this.
People with long periods of exposure to pesticides also have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. (The cause is unknown. It is unlikely that pesticides directly cause Parkinson’s disease, but they may impact certain factors that increase the likelihood of having it.)
Last Updated October 2020