Is Parkinson's Disease Caused by a Virus? Is it Contagious?

Learn More About Parkinson's Disease Symptoms and Risk Factors

Senior man getting dressed with Parkinson's
Senior man getting dressed with Parkinson's. Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

There is no evidence that Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative brain disorder (meaning brain cells become impaired), is caused by a virus. Parkinson's disease also is not contagious. It develops in the presence of several risk factors, such as a family history of the illness, exposure to chemical and industrial toxins and older age.

Parkinson's Disease and Dopamine

Parkinson's disease develops slowly over time in most people -- some people live with the disease for years before being diagnosed.

Over time, a person's brain cells (called neurons) stop producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that helps you to have smooth, coordinated muscle movements.

When a majority of dopamine-producing cells are damaged, symptoms of Parkinson's disease occur. When your brain begins to work with less amounts of dopamine, you become less able to control your movements, body, and emotions. These symptoms affect people differently, and at different times. In some people, it takes years to get to an advanced stage while in others the disease progresses much more quickly.

Parkinson's Disease Symptoms

Symptoms include shaking or having tremors, small handwriting, a loss of smell, trouble sleeping, trouble moving or walking, constipation, a soft or low voice, dizziness or fainting, stooping or hunching over, and a masked face (a serious, mad, or depressed look on your face when you are not feeling that way).

Parkinson's disease itself is not deadly but complications from the disease can be severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), complications from Parkinson's disease rank as the 14th cause of death in the United States.

You are not likely to inherit the disease from a relative.

About 10 to 15 percent of all cases of Parkinson’s are genetic. The other 85 to 90 percent of cases are "idiopathic," meaning the exact cause is unknown.

Parkinson's Disease Treatment

There is currently no cure for Parkinson's. Doctors treat symptoms, focusing on quality of life. Most often, you will be cared for by a team of physicians who can address all of your symptoms as needed. You may be cared for by a general neurologist, a nurse, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a speech language pathologist and a movement disorder specialist. The latter has extra training in Parkinson’s disease and can help treat problems you face at each stage of the disease. A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

​​More About Parkinson's Disease

References:

"Understanding Parkinson's." National Parkinson Foundation. Available from: http://www.parkinson.org

Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. (eds) Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management: Second Edition Edited by 2008 Demos Medical Publishing.

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