Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder whose symptoms are a result of a lack of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter. Approximately 1 1/2 million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Parkinson’s is chronic and progressive and will strike slightly more men than women and slightly more whites than blacks. The majority of individuals who suffer from this disease are over the age of 50, but as many as 10% are under the age of 40. Approximately 50,000 new cases are diagnosed yearly and the estimated costs for health care will exceed 5 1/2 billion dollars.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease scientists and doctors do you have several treatment protocols which have allowed patients to extend the amount of time they are functional. Individuals who are mildly affected may not need treatment at first but as symptoms progress treatment protocols will be designed to meet their individual needs.
It might seem that in order to treat the disease doctors should prescribe dopamine, the neurotransmitter which is lacking in the brain and causing the symptoms. However, dopamine does not cross the blood brain barrier which means that although there will be sufficient dopamine circulating in the body it will never reach the brain where it is needed.
Levodopa, a chemical that is normally found in the body, is usually the first medication prescribed. This is because this chemical is converted by the body into dopamine which then crosses the blood brain barrier. Including another drug, Carbidopa, to delay the conversion of levodopa to dopamine until it reaches the brain, will often decrease or prevent the side effects that levodopa has on the body. Using carbidopa will also decrease the amount of levodopa needed.
Although this combination can be effective the drug is far from perfect. Side effects from this combination can increase over time. Parkinson syndrome often manifests itself to varying degrees over time when the drugs simply don’t work for unpredictable durations.
New drugs which appeared in the late 1990s including Mirapex, Requip and Tasmar, have increased the options for patients who require treatment. Both Mirapex and Requip are approved for use alone or with levodopa.
Other medications which are also approved for use with Parkinson’s disease are Parlodel and Permax, both of which mimic the action of dopamine in the brain. Eldepryl can enhance and prolong levodopa responses by delaying the breakdown and allowing accumulation in the surviving nerve cells.
Individuals with Parkinson’s disease may often need additional medications to help reduce the symptoms or control the side effects of the primary treatment. Medications used to decrease side effects can include anti-histamines, antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Part of the treatment protocols for individuals with Parkinson’s disease will also include good General Nutrition, exercise and adequate amounts of sleep and rest. Individuals will find that without these three additional treatment options they will recognize increased symptoms.
In early 2009 researchers published the results of a recent trial using a new technique to reduce tremors, rigidity and flailing of the lambs which allowed people to move more freely for an extra five hours a day. This trial used electrodes implanted in the brains of individuals who had Parkinson’s disease to test deep brain stimulation.
Although the results for the majority of the individuals were higher than expected the research also revealed higher than expected risks. Approximately 40% of the patients who received these electrodes suffered serious side effects, including a surprising number of falls. Researchers found that patients were feeling so good they were placing themselves in risky positions and suffering consequences, such as doing roof repair.
Deep brain stimulation was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2002 for advanced Parkinson’s. The latest findings were published after researchers studied 255 people and followed up after six months.
While there are is no current cure for Parkinson’s disease and researchers are unsure why be area of the brain that produces dopamine stops working they are making strides in the area of treatment protocols to enable individuals with Parkinson’s disease to enjoy more freedoms and greater functionality.