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Who Was James Parkinson?

The first clear description of what is today called Parkinson’s disease was a treatise entitled “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” which was written by a British doctor, James Parkinson, and published in 1817, exactly 200 years ago this year.  He called the condition “paralysis agitans” to draw attention to the characteristic combination of muscle weakness and tremor (although we now know that there is wide variation between cases in the severity of the disease’s different clinical manifestations). Interestingly, in common with a number of other prominent physicians of the 19th century, Parkinson was also a political activist. He campaigned for universal suffrage and at one time was suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate King George III. He was also a respected palaeontologist and had several fossils named after him.

James Parkinson was born on April 11th, 1755 and died aged 69 in 1824. The condition which now bears his name was so designated by another famous 19th century neurologist, the Frenchman Jean-Marie Charcot. 11th April has been chosen as World Parkinson’s Day to commemorate Parkinson’s birthday.

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