Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder with no known cure. The symptoms of the disease are caused by the loss of specific nerve and brain cells that are responsible for the production and regulation of dopamine in the brain. Although researchers have identified the process that is responsible for most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s, science has yet to identify the cause. Most treatments for Parkinson’s disease focus on restoring the balance of dopamine and acetylcholine in the body. Conventional treatments for Parkinson’s disease include medications and surgery. Lifestyle and home changes can help a Parkinson’s patient cope with the progress of the disease. Alternative treatments like stem cell therapy also hold out promise for long-term treatment for Parkinson’s patients.

Drug Treatment

The obvious solution to controlling the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is to provide the body with more dopamine, but doctors can’t administer dopamine directly to the patient because the body prevents it from entering the brain, where it is needed. Medications used as treatment for Parkinson’s disease include:

Levodopa: a natural chemical that can enter the brain where it is converted to dopamine. Side effects include nausea and drops in blood pressure when standing. In addition, L-dopa becomes less effective over time, so doctors try to hold off prescribing it as long as possible.

Dopamine agonists: Pramipexole and ropinirole are short-acting injectable dopamine agonists. Rather than changing into dopamine, they mimic the effects that dopamine has on your brain. Side effects include hallucinations, swelling, sleepiness and an increase in compulsive behaviors.

MAO B Inhibitors: Selegiline, rasagiline and other MAO B inhibitors prevent the brain from breaking down dopamine, thus making it more available. Side effects include nausea and headaches. MAO B inhibitors cannot be taken in conjunction with many other medications.

COMT inhibitors: Entacapone prolongs the effect of levodopa.

Anticholinergics: help control tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease, but have serious side effects, including impaired memory, hallucinations, confusion and impaired urination.

Surgical Treatment

There are several surgical procedures that may help alleviate symptoms of the disorder. They include pallidotomy, which creates lesions in the brain, and deep brain stimulation, which involves the implantation of electrodes in the brain. The risks include infections, stroke or brain hemorrhage.

Surgeons have found considerable success with stem cell implants as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Lifestyle changes may help slow the progress of the disease and prevent risks associated with its progression. A healthy diet provides nutrients that may help reduce the effects of symptoms, and an occupational therapist can help teach those with the disorder new ways of doing regular activities of daily living that can help them avoid injuries and frustration.

Alternative Therapies

Some studies suggest that COQ10 may help people in the early stages of Parkinon’s disease. Alternative and complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, tai chi, the Alexander technique and meditation may reduce pain and stiffness, and help with general well-being of those with the disease.

Stem Cell Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers believe that stem cells hold out enormous promise for those who have Parkinson’s disease because the disorder involves one very specific and easily recognized type of cell. Doctors have implanted fetal stem cells into the brains of people with the disorder in clinical trials with some significant successes. Scientists have recently learned how to induce adult stem cells to return to the embryonic state, which may eventually provide a ready source of induced pluripotent stem cells (embryonic stem cells) for implantation. These cells can then be used to make the dopamine producing neurons the body needs.

There is still a great deal of work to be done before stem cell therapies are used widely as treatment for Parkinson’s disease, but the research is on its way, and progressing far faster than was ever expected. It may not be long before stem cells are the standard treatment for the progressive neurological disease.

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