Parkinson disease is a brain disorder that affects nearly 1.5 million Americans and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. There is no known cure but with research and medication there is hope. Parkinson’s isn’t easy to diagnose either. There is no blood test or brain scan that definitively points to the condition – doctors diagnose based on the process of elimination and patient symptoms. Other signs of the disease include: a shuffling walk, small cramped handwriting, muffled speech, depression and stiff facial expressions. There are doctors, neurologists, who specialize in the treatment of neurological disorders and of these even more specialized practitioners who specifically treat Parkinson disease.

What Causes Parkinson

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of neurons in a part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. This area of the brain is part of a system of neurons known as the basal ganglia. This system is very important in the control of movement. The neurons in the substantia nigra secrete dopamine. The loss of dopamine’s effect on the basal ganglia leads to the signs and symptoms of Parkinsonism.

Who Gets Parkinson

About 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s, and both men and women can get it. Symptoms usually appear when someone is older than 50 and it becomes more common as people get older.

Many people wonder if you’re more likely to get Parkinson’s disease if you have a relative who has it. Although the role that heredity plays isn’t completely understood, we do know that if a close relative like a parent, brother, or sister has Parkinson’s, there is a greater chance of developing the disease. But Parkinson’s disease is not contagious. You can’t get it by simply being around someone who has it.

Medication For Parkinson

Medications may help you manage problems with walking, movement and tremor. These medications increase or substitute for dopamine, a specific signaling chemical (neurotransmitter) in your brain.

People with Parkinson’s disease have low brain dopamine concentrations. However, dopamine can’t be given directly, as it can’t enter your brain.

You may have significant improvement of your symptoms after beginning Parkinson’s disease treatment. Over time, however, the benefits of drugs frequently diminish or become less consistent, although symptoms usually can continue to be fairly well-controlled.

Medications

  • Anticholinergics. These medications were used for many years to help control the tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease. Several anticholinergic medications are available, including benztropine (Cogentin) or trihexyphenidyl.However, their modest benefits are often offset by side effects such as impaired memory, confusion, hallucinations, constipation, dry mouth and impaired urination.
  • Amantadine. Doctors may prescribe amantadine alone to provide short-term relief of symptoms of mild, early-stage Parkinson’s disease. It may also be given with carbidopa-levodopa therapy during the later stages of Parkinson’s disease to control involuntary movements (dyskinesias) induced by carbidopa-levodopa.Side effects may include a purple mottling of the skin, ankle swelling or hallucinations.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa. Levodopa, the most effective Parkinson’s disease medication, is a natural chemical that passes into your brain and is converted to dopamine.Levodopa is combined with carbidopa (Rytary, Sinemet), which protects levodopa from premature conversion to dopamine outside your brain, which prevents or lessens side effects such as nausea.Side effects may include nausea or lightheadedness (orthostatic hypotension).After years, as your disease progresses, the benefit from levodopa may become less stable, with a tendency to wax and wane (“wearing off”).Also, you may experience involuntary movements (dyskinesia) after taking higher doses of levodopa. Your doctor may lessen your dose or adjust the times of your doses to control these effects.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa infusion. The U.S. Food and Drug administration approved a drug called Duopa in 2015. This medication is made up of carbidopa and levodopa. However, it’s administered through a feeding tube that delivers the medication in a gel form directly to the small intestine.Duopa is for patients with more advanced Parkinson’s who still respond to carbidopa-levodopa, but who have a lot of fluctuations in their response. Because Duopa is continually infused, blood levels of the two drugs remain constant.Placement of the tube requires a small surgical procedure. Risks associated with having the tube include the tube falling out or infections at the infusion site.
  • Dopamine agonists. Unlike levodopa, dopamine agonists don’t change into dopamine. Instead, they mimic dopamine effects in your brain.They aren’t as effective as levodopa in treating your symptoms. However, they last longer and may be used with levodopa to smooth the sometimes off-and-on effect of levodopa.Dopamine agonists include pramipexole (Mirapex), ropinirole (Requip) and rotigotine (given as a patch, Neupro). A short-acting injectable dopamine agonist, apomorphine (Apokyn), is used for quick relief.Some of the side effects of dopamine agonists are similar to the side effects of carbidopa-levodopa, but also include hallucinations, sleepiness and compulsive behaviors such as hypersexuality, gambling and eating. If you’re taking these medications and you behave in a way that’s out of character for you, talk to your doctor.
  • MAO-B inhibitors. These medications include selegiline (Eldepryl, Zelapar) and rasagiline (Azilect). They help prevent the breakdown of brain dopamine by inhibiting the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B). This enzyme metabolizes brain dopamine. Side effects may include nausea or insomnia.When added to carbidopa-levodopa, these medications increase the risk of hallucinations.These medications are not often used in combination with most antidepressants or certain narcotics due to potentially serious but rare reactions. Check with your doctor before taking any additional medications with a MAO-B inhibitor.
  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors. Entacapone (Comtan) is the primary medication from this class. This medication mildly prolongs the effect of levodopa therapy by blocking an enzyme that breaks down dopamine.Side effects, including an increased risk of involuntary movements (dyskinesias), mainly result from an enhanced levodopa effect. Other side effects include diarrhea or other enhanced levodopa side effects.Tolcapone (Tasmar) is another COMT inhibitor that is rarely prescribed due to a risk of serious liver damage and liver failure.

Treatment For Parkinson

Parkinson’s disease can’t be cured, but medications can help control your symptoms, often dramatically. In some later cases, surgery may be advised.

Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, especially ongoing aerobic exercise. In some cases, physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching also is important. A speech-language pathologist may help improve your speech problems.

 

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