An essay on the shaking palsy. 1817.

Parkinson turned away from his tumultuous political career, and between 1799 and 1807 published several medical works, including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for early writings on ruptured appendix in English medical literature. Parkinson was also interested in improving the general health and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical doctrines that exposed a similar zeal for the health and welfare of the people that was expressed by his political activism. He was a crusader for legal protection for the mentally ill, as well as their doctors and families. In 1812 Parkinson assisted his son with the first described case of appendicitis in English, and the first instance in which perforation was shown to be the cause of death. Parkinson was the first person to systematically describe six individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. In his “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy“, he reported on three of his own patients and three persons who he saw in the street. He referred to the disease that would later bear his name as paralysis agitans, or shaking palsy. He distinguished between resting tremors and the tremors with motion. Jean-Martin Charcot coined the term “Parkinson’s disease“ some 60 years later. Parkinson erroneously predicted that the tremors in these patients were due to lesions in the cervical spinal cord.

An Essay on the Shaking Palsy. London, Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1817.

In 1817 an English doctor, James Parkinson, published his essay reporting six cases of paralysis agitans. An Essay on the Shaking Palsy described the characteristic resting tremor, abnormal posture and gait, paralysis and diminished muscle strength, and the way that the disease progresses over time. Early neurologists who made further additions to the knowledge of the disease include Trousseau, Gowers, Kinnier, Wilson and Erb, and most notably Jean-Martin Charcot, whose studies between 1868 and 1881 were a landmark in the understanding of the disease. Among other advances, he made the distinction between rigidity, weakness and bradykinesia. He also championed the renaming of the disease in honor of James Parkinson.


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James Parkinson is most famous for publishing 'An Essay on the Shaking Palsy' in 1817, which established  as a recognised medical condition.

James Parkinson (1755-1824) was an English physician, geologist, paleontologist, and political activist. In 1784 he became a surgeon and succeeded his father in his practice at 1, Hoxton Square, London. In addition to his flourishing medical practice, Parkinson had an avid interest in geology and paleontology, as well as the politics of the day. He published nearly twenty political pamphlets in the post-French Revolution period, sometimes under the pseudonym “Old Hubert”, calling for radical social reforms. Parkinson was also interested in improving the general health and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical doctrines that exposed a similar zeal for the health and welfare of the people that was expressed by his political activism. He is most famous for his 1817 work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, in which he was the first to describe “paralysis agitans”, a condition that would later be named Parkinson’s disease after him. His other works include: Organic Remains of the Former World (1804) and Elements of Oryctology: An Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, Especially of Those Found in British Strata (1822).