Parkinson’s is an evil disease that robs a person of one thing after another until basically all they can do is watch TV. For an active person, it’s especially brutal. Although you hear about potential breakthroughs in research on how to stop the disease, the reality is that the scientific research budgets are currently under siege in Washington, so funding has been erratic.
It’s best to know what can happen with Parkinson’s and what your current treatment options are at Texas Neurosurgery.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, usually unbeknownst to the patient — a barely noticeable tremor or difficulty with the control of a muscle when doing an activity. These problems occur when the cells that produce dopamine become destroyed or severely damaged. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals to the brain to control movement. As Parkinson’s progresses, these cells diminish and patients gradually lose more and more control of their movements. What often happens is that the patient needs to stop participating in the activity, say something like playing golf or paddleboarding, due to their lack of muscle control. As the disease progresses, more and more activities become impossible.
What causes Parkinson’s?
The causes of Parkinson’s are still a mystery. One thing is known — Parkinson’s is more common in men over the age of 50. It’s not understood why some people lose their dopamine cells while others don’t. It is thought to be linked with abnormal genes in some patients. Research is also looking at aging and environmental factors as potential causes.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s displays four main symptoms:
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Slow movement
- Difficulty walking and balancing
In most patients, the first sign is a slight tremor in one arm or leg. From there it slowly spread to other areas of the body.
How is Parkinson’s treated?
At Texas Neurosurgery, the goal is to restore the proper balance of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine. This is done with various drugs that increase the dopamine levels. These drugs usually have a period of effectiveness, and then they begin to have less and less impact.
When drugs no longer are working, we often go to deep brain stimulation to inactivate the parts of the brain that trigger the disease without destroying nearby brain tissue.
In next month’s blog, we’ll go into details of the available drugs we employ to fight Parkinson’s and we’ll describe how deep brain stimulation works.