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Parkinson’s Disease recently came out of the closet when Michael J. Fox – young, fit and successful – announced to the world that he was quitting his top rating TV comedy Spin City, to concentrate on the disease which had been plaguing him for years –Parkinson’s. Previously it was considered to be an old person’s disease, not something to cripple a man in the prime of his life. So, what is the truth about Parkinson’s Disease? And what hope is there for those who are sufferers?
Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurological disease affecting muscle control and movement. It occurs when cells are destroyed in certain parts of the brain stem. These cells should release dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. Loss of dopamine is the primary cause of Parkinson’s Disease. It results in the damaging of muscles and nerves controlling movement and coordination. In turn, this results in the familiar hand tremor. Tremors can also occur in the head, lips, tongue and feet. Some people even experience internal tremors. Another symptom is known as Bradykinesia – slowness of movement, decrease in automatic movement and difficulty of initiating movement. Rigidity of movement, an inattentive, emotionless facial expression, flat and atonal voice pitch, difficulty in swallowing saliva and depression are also symptoms of Parkinson’s.
As of yet, there is no known cause of Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers are currently trying to understand why there is a drop in dopamine in affected people. Current indications are that the causes are both genetic and environmental.
It may be as long as five years after the loss of dopamine that symptoms appear. Early detection of the condition is a major advantage in successful management. A recent study out of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota gives hope in this regard. The combination of an experimental drug with a widely available brain-scan device appears to allow detection before symptoms appear. By taking a dose of Beta – CIT – the drug used in the study – this radioactive agent binds to the dopamine –dependant brain cells. A special scan can then determine the levels of Beta-CIT in the brain. Lower levels of Beta-CIT indicates a pre-disposition to Parkinsons.
Parkinson’s disease is currently incurable. Symptoms can, however, be relieved or controlled. Among other treatments are L-Dopa – derived from broad beans or made synthetically – which has been used for over 20 years with limited results. An implant in the Thalamus – the message relay center of the brain – known as the Activa has also been successful in countering tremors.
Those who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s should get as much information as possible about their condition – it’s causes, symptoms and treatment. Search out as many treatments for the symptoms as you can. Learn the course Parkinson’s may take in the future.
Parkinson’s Disease is not life threatening. It is, however, life altering. You, though, can still live a fulfilling, happy life by taking advantage of the treatments available.