The disorder that was to become known as Parkinson’s disease was first described as shaking palsy in 1817 by a London physician named James Parkinson. Parkinson’s disease is now known to be a progressive neurological disorder involving degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain that controls movement. This degeneration creates a shortage of dopamine, which is the immediate cause of the movement dysfunctions that characterize the disease: administration of l-dopa (a precursor to dopamine, which is converted in brain cells to dopamine) has considerable beneficial effects in many patients with Parkinson’s disease.
In most cases, the first symptom of Parkinson’s disease is tremor (trembling or shaking) of a limb, especially when the body is at rest. The tremor often begins on one side of the body, frequently in one hand. As the disease progresses, both sides of the body may be involved and shaking of the head may also occur. Other common symptoms include slow movement, difficulty in initiating movement, rigid limbs, a shuffling gait, a stooped posture, and reduced facial expressions. In about a third of the cases, the disease also causes or is associated with depression, personality changes, dementia, sleep disturbances, speech impairments, and/or sexual difficulties.
Parkinson’s disease is relatively rare overall, but it becomes a common problem of the elderly, affecting about 6% of those over the age of 65. In the United States, about 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are believed to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, with about 50,000 new cases are reported annually. The disorder is more common in men than women. The average age of onset is about 60; rarely occurring before age 40, but increasingly diagnosed with aging.
Causes of Parkinson’s disease are not fully known, but there are genetic factors involved in susceptibility and there may be contributions from a variety of behaviors. For example, it has been suggested recently that people who drink coffee and tea are less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s than those who drink none or little of these caffeinated beverages.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. Many patients are only mildly affected and need no treatment for several years after the initial diagnosis. When symptoms grow severe, doctors usually prescribe levodopa (l-dopa), which helps replenish the brain’s dopamine. Sometimes doctors prescribe other drugs that affect dopamine levels in the brain (e.g., drugs that inhibit the breakdown of dopamine). In patients who are very severely affected, a kind of brain surgery known as pallidotomy has reportedly been effective in reducing symptoms. Another kind of brain surgery, in which healthy dopamine-producing tissue is transplanted into the brain, is also being tested. Finally, researchers are trying to identify substances that will prevent dopamine-producing brain cells from dying, such as antioxidants, with investigation of coenzyme Q10 as an example.
University of Arizona doctors find acupuncture effective for the treatment of balance and gait disorders in Parkinson’s disease patients. The research team from the surgery and neurology departments measured significant clinical improvements in overall balance, gait speed and stride length. The results were published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The researchers convened to measure objective improvements on balance and gait for Parkinson’s disease patients through the implementation of acupuncture. Balance and gait are the focus of therapeutics for Parkinson’s patients because they are predictors of the risk of falling and the impact on the quality of life. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder affecting movement. Changes include the onset of tremors, slower movements, shuffling, difficulty swallowing, fainting, reduced arm sway, rigidity and changes in speech and gait. There is no known biomedical cure but medications including levodopa, COMT inhibitors, MAO-B inhibitors, dopamine agonists and other medications are used to control symptoms. Surgical interventions include the implantation of deep brain stimulators.
In the study, patients were randomly assigned to an acupuncture group or a control group. The acupuncture group received electroacupuncture. The control group received sham acupuncture to rule out variables including the placebo effect. Patients received one treatment per week for three weeks and each treatment duration lasted a total of 30 minutes.
Objective measurements were taken from various positions and during many types of activities. Balance measurements included assessment of the relationship between the mediolateral center of mass sway with the anteroposterior sway. These measurements were taken with the eyes open, closed and during multitasking. Gait measurements were taken during fast walking, postural transitions and related activities.
The researchers tabulated the results and measured an overall improvement in balance by 31% in the acupuncture group. Gait speed showed a significant increase by 10% and stride length increased by 5% for patients receiving acupuncture. Control group patients showed no improvements.
Balance, gait and stride length were all significantly improved by the application of electroacupuncture. Use of a sham acupuncture control group eliminated the possibility of the placebo effect. As a result, the researchers concluded, “EA (electroacupuncture) is an effective therapy in improving certain aspects of balance and gait disorders in PD (Parkinson’s disease).”
If you are suffering from the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and would like to try a drug-free alternative to experience relief, please contact our office at (304) 263-4927 to schedule an appointment today.