''Peek'' at Parkinson's: New Diagnostic Test

October 8, 2012

BACKGROUND: Parkinson's disease (PD) is a nervous system disorder that results in the degradation of motor skills in both men and women. PD, like other motor system diseases, is caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine allows nerve cells to successfully transmit messages that control muscle movement. Devoid of the chemical, the brain scrambles commands, subsequently impairing muscular functions.

Parkinson's is a chronic, progressive disease and varies in severity. Though PD typically affects adults over the age of 50, it has been documented to afflict young adults and in rare cases, children. Researchers have not identified a cause for the loss of dopamine-producing cells and there are no standard blood or laboratory tests to conclusively identify the disease. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine).

SYMPTOMS: Shaking and tremors are the most common symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, though it may take decades for them to develop. Other PD symptoms include difficulty speaking, swallowing, chewing and sleeping. Some patients have experienced emotional changes, skin irritation, urinary issues and constipation.

TREATMENT: There is no known cure for Parkinson's disease. Patients diagnosed with PD are often prescribed medications to offset the effects of dopamine loss and improve muscle control. The most common drugs prescribed are L-Dopa, Sinemet, Atamet, Mirapex, Requip, Parlodel, Eldepryl, Deprenyl, Azilect, Amantadine and Entacapone. In addition to movement-related medications, doctors may prescribe pharmaceuticals to treat autonomic dysfunction, impaired cognitive processes, sleeping disorders and to alleviate pain. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

NEW DIAGNOSTIC TOOL: VA Medical Center and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have identified a new method to screen patients for Parkinson's disease. The study suggests that patients with PD cannot sustain focus when asked to gaze upon a target on a computer monitor. Researchers observed an ocular tremor among PD patients regardless of whether they have received treatment or not. Only two control participants exhibited the tremor. One of the two patients who experienced the tremor experienced and reported Parkinson's symptoms within two years. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs)


Darlene Edwards
Public Affairs Officer
Richmond VAMC
(804) 675-5242

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