Unlocking Parkinson's: A Journey Through Progress, Challenges, and Hope

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, a time to highlight the progress and challenges of the degenerative condition that affects at least 500,000 Americans. April was the birth month of James Parkinson, the English surgeon and paleontologist who first identified the symptoms of the disease over 200 years ago. Although there is currently no cure, research is ongoing, and medications and surgery offer improvement in symptoms. 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Parkinson’s disease (PD) has four primary symptoms:

  • Tremors, typically starting in the hands
  • Rigidity, or muscle stiffness
  • Bradykinesia, or the slowing of automatic movement such as dressing or washing
  • Postural instability, or balance issues, that can lead to a greater risk for falls

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. It is thought that PD likely results from a combination of inheritance and exposure to a known or yet unknown substance. Scientists know that 15-25% of diagnosed individuals have a known relative who also has the condition, and studies have linked rural pesticide exposure to the development of PD.

The symptoms of PD are likely caused by damaged dopamine-producing brain cells, called neurons, in an area near the base of the brain. By the time symptoms appear, an individual has typically lost 60-80% of dopamine-producing neurons. 

Although research is ongoing in the area, there are currently no specific tests for Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosis is usually done after a thorough history and exam and after ruling out other conditions. 

Treatment commonly consists of drugs that either turn into dopamine, mimic dopamine, or slow the breakdown of dopamine-producing neurons. Surgery to implant an electrode or to remove tremor-producing brain tissue is helpful in many cases. Although the disease is progressive, PD does not affect everyone the same way.

New research is ongoing and offers exciting possibilities. For example, one study funded by a branch of the NIH called the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke compared the benefits of stretching, resistance training, and tai chi for individuals with mild to moderate symptoms of Parkinson’s. Tai chi improved balance and those who did it had fewer falls and better improvement in function, and ongoing research is focused on whether the tai chi simply strengthened muscles or had a direct effect on the brain. Another current study is comparing tango dancing, treadmill walking, and stretching (the control).

With continued awareness and research, there is hope for finding better ways to detect, treat, and perhaps even prevent or cure Parkinson’s disease. To learn more about the condition, please visit www.healthwise.net.

Sourced By: Healthwise
Reviewed By: Capital Health Plan Physicians Group
Posted: April 1, 2024

2024-03-29 20:15:00