Diseases are sometimes extremely devastating and cruel. Some diseases move very rapidly while others are slow and painful. Treatments are sometimes useful yet other times nothing can stop the silent beasts that lurk in the body. Parkinson’s disease is a slow moving disease that slowly corrupts the brain.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic motor disorder that causes tremors, rigidity, slowed body movements, unstable posture and abnormal gait. This happens when neurons, nerve cells, in a part or the brain called the substantial nigra gradually die. These cells normally produce dopamine, a chemical that helps relay messages between areas of the brain that control body movement. The death of the cells leads to abnormal low levels of dopamine, and causes difficulty in controlling muscle tension and muscle movement both at rest and during periods of activity.
PD as of now affects about 500,000 Americans, with about 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It is generally a disease that affects people of late or middle age at about age 60 however about 5 percent of patients have early-onset PD and are younger than 40 years old when symptoms begin. PD is slightly more common in men then women.
So far scientists have not determined the reason why some people develop PD and others do not. Some experts blame a process called oxidation. During oxidation unstable molecules that are produced in the brain as a result of its normal chemical reactions which ultimately damage the brain. Another theory suggests that the effects of toxic affects of drugs may cause PD. Additional evidence suggests that PD may be related to environmental toxins especially because some claim that they have found rates of PD that are higher in rural areas where farming is intense and residents drink well water. So far PD has not been linked to genetic abnormality.
PD usually begins as a slight tremor of a hand arm or leg. The tremors usually affect a limb at rest but it also may occur when it is in use. The tremor may improve when the patient intentionally moves the limb or it may disappear entirely during sleep. In the hand the tremor is often described as “pill-rolling” when it affects the thumb and index finger. As PD progresses the tremor may become widespread eventually affecting limbs on both sides of the body. IN addition PD also causes limb rigidity a slowing of intentional body movement unstable posture and gait problems. When bradykinesia affects the facial muscles it may cause drooling, disrupts normal eye blinking interferes with facial expressions. Bradykinesia of the other muscles may affect every day life. The ability to wash or dress him or her self, to use eating utensils becomes very difficult. Also to perform necessary household chores such as washing the dishes or doing laundry also becomes difficult.
In many PD patients a problem with balance and unsteady posture occur. This may make it hard for them to lower or raise oneself into a chair. Walking may require small shuffling steps usually without the normal arm swinging motions. Handwriting also becomes shaky and often illegible.
Although there is currently no cute for PD its symptoms can be treated with several different types of medication. Antioxidants slow down the progression of existing PD. Dr. Stanley Fahn of Columbia University has found that PD patients given large doses of oral vitamin C and synthetic vitamin and delayed the progression of their disease to the point where they delayed the need for 1-dopa by 2.5 years.
The most common conventional treatment for PD is the use of drugs such as l-dopa medications, selegiline (deprenyl and eldepryl) which blocks the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, and anticholinergenic drugs which reduce the amount of acetylcholine produced in the brain which corrects the imbalance between dopamine and acetylcholine. Surgical procedures such as pallidotomy are proving successful in the treatment of PD. Pallidotomy is a procedure in which a small portion of the globus pallidus, a structure deep within the brain, is surgically destroyed resulting in improved motor functioning. Doctors are also finding great success in eliminating tremors by implanting electrodes in the brain. Currently, testing only allows the electrode to be implanted on one side of the brain so if patients have tremors on both sides of the body, they must choose which side they wanted treated.
Complementary/alternative therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s are becoming more common because they are proving to slow the progression of the disease in its early stages. Some of these treatments include supplementation with vitamins C, B and E, co-enzyme Q-10; controlled diet, relaxation therapy to alleviate stress which aggravates PD; and detoxification to eliminate as much metal toxicity as possible. A well designed program of rest, exercise, and physiotherapy can also significantly ameliorate the symptoms of PD.
In conclusion, PD is a frightening disease. There is no true cure for the disease but it can be slowed down and controlled. Doctors and scientists are continuing to try and find a cure. Hopefully a cure will be found to end the pain and suffering of PD patients.