HealthWACH: Crystal ball for Parkinson's Disease

HealthWACH: Crystal ball for Parkinson's Disease

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Parkinsonâ??s disease is a condition of the brain affecting approximately six million people. It is most commonly characterized by slowness of movement, stiffness, shaking, and loss of balance. Parkinsonâ??s often develops after the age of 50. Although Parkinsonâ??s disease is one of the most common nervous system disorders for the elderly, it can affect young people too, usually because a form of the disease runs in their family. Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to control muscles. When the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine are destroyed as a result of Parkinsonâ??s, the nerve cells in that particular part of the brain will not properly send messages. The result is the loss of muscle control. The damage gets worse over time.

A doctor may be able to diagnose the disease based on symptoms alone, but symptoms can be difficult to access in the elderly. Unfortunately, there is no known cure only a treatment plan to control symptoms. Medicines for Parkinsonâ??s are designed to control symptoms usually by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. Throughout the day the medications can wear off and symptoms can return. Parkinsonâ??s requires the patient and doctor to work closely with each other to find the right treatment plan that works best. Common medications are Levodopa (L-dopa), Pramipexole (Mirapex), Selegiline (Eldepryl, Deprenyl), Amantadine or anticholinergic medications to reduce early or mild tremors, or Entacapone to help control movement. Other medications include: Memantine for cognitive difficulties, Antidepressants, Gabapentin for pain, Fludrocortisone for autonomic dysfunction, and Armodafinil for sleep disorders.

Researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health have identified a metabolite that seems to be a marker for a more severe form of the disease. After studying nearly 6,000 metabolites in the blood of people with Parkinsonâ??s, they found one, called N8-acetyl spermidine, was associated with a quicker worsening of Parkinsonâ??s symptoms. Patients were followed for 10 years, and those who had a more severe disease had higher levels of the metabolite. Researchers now have to find out if catching the disease early enough can help patients.