HealthWACH: Stop the shaking

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.

The first symptoms of Parkinsonâ??s disease can be hard to diagnose, especially in older patients, and often start out mild and worsen over time. The most common signs of Parkinsonâ??s disease are shaking, called tremors, and jerky, stiff movements. Some of the other possible signs include:

  • Constipation

  • Depression, anxiety, and memory loss

  • Slowed movements, slow blinking, and slowed speech

  • Difficulty swallowing and drooling

  • Problems with balance and walking

Deep brain stimulation is a technique that has been used for years now to treat conditions like Parkinsonâ??s, dystonia, and essential tremor. The procedure to put the electrode in place usually takes place with the patient awake, because brain mapping is easier when the patient isnâ??t under anesthesia and so doctors can periodically check with the patient. However, now doctors can use MRI to place the electrodes needed for the neurostimulator. This means the patients can be put under general anesthesia for the surgery. The MRI helps doctors visualize in real time where the electrode needs to be placed. This is important for patients who are nervous, canâ??t tolerate being awake, or too dystonic to be still during a surgery.