Rise in Parkinson’s disease spurs research

Nearly 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed each year in the United States. According to the Parkinson Foundation, this number exceeds the new American diagnoses of multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS) and muscular dystrophy. It is estimated that one million people are currently living with Parkinson’s disease and that number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.

Concern over increasing diagnoses has brought new attention to Parkinson’s disease among members of the medical and research communities and among the general public.


Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is classified as a neurodegenerative disease because it creates an abnormality in an area of ​​the brain that produces neurons called dopamine. This part of the brain is called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a specific neurotransmitter that regulates movement in the body. Because Parkinson’s disease damages this substance, movement and muscle function are often hampered.

Research has shown that men are 1.5% more likely than women to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In both men and women, Parkinson’s disease becomes more likely as people get older. However, an estimated 4% to 10% of diagnoses are in people aged 50 and under. The onset of Parkinson’s disease in this age group is known as early Parkinson’s disease.

Genetics accounts for 10-15% of Parkinson’s diagnoses. Environmental considerations including exposure to chemicals, head injuries, and other factors have also been linked to it, but much remains to be learned about the specific causes.

Complications of Parkinson’s disease can contribute to health problems that can lead to decline and death. In Michigan, there were 1,347 deaths related to Parkinson’s disease in 2020 alone, while the total number of deaths in the United States associated with Parkinson’s disease was estimated at 40,214, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms and warning signs

Each case of Parkinson’s disease can be different from the others. Symptoms are generally divided into motor and non-motor characteristics. Among the motor problems that can appear are hand, leg or foot tremors that can occur on either side of the body. Muscle rigidity can also be a sign. Other motor-related symptoms may include bradykinesia, a term encompassing slowness of movement or loss of facial expression, eye blinking, or loss of coordination. Bradykinesia can also include changes in vocal strength or emotional expression. Walking may also become more difficult.

Non-motor symptoms can include anxiety, depression, and cognitive difficulties. Fatigue, personality changes, sleep differences, and weight loss can also signal Parkinson’s disease.

Along with the established symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a list of warning signs has been published by the Parkinson’s Foundation. They include tremors, loss of smell, and constipation not caused by diet or other usual factors, such as certain medications. Dizziness, a noticeable change in posture, such as hunching or stooping, and fainting can also be early signs. Changing handwriting patterns, such as smaller letters or words coming closer together when written, can also be a signal.

Treatment options

Parkinson’s disease is incurable, but medications and therapies are available to treat it. Medicine can help with motor function and is prescribed according to the needs of each patient. Prescriptions will also be adjusted as the severity of symptoms changes.

Therapy may include physical training to improve movement issues, such as walking. Speech therapy and occupational therapy dedicated to motor skills may also be prescribed.

Research

Research is ongoing to define various aspects of Parkinson’s disease. The Parkinson’s Prevalence Project was established by the Parkinson’s Foundation in 2014. Its goal is to collect location-based and demographic information for research purposes. Additionally, the LaJolla Institute of Immunology is currently conducting a clinical research project to determine the relationship between the immune system and Parkinson’s disease. Specific areas of study include the influence of DNA on the development of Parkinson’s disease. The aim of the research project is to find improvements in the treatment of the disease. The study participants are men and women between the ages of fifty and seventy who are generally healthy, as well as people in the same age group who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

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Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Midland Vascular Health Clinics.

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