Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that primarily affects movement. In the earliest stages of Parkinson’s, an affected person’s face also may show little or no expression and speech may become soft and slurred.
According to Parkinson’s News Today, Parkinson’s is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Parkinson’s affects more people than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and ALS combined, and an estimated 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease.
The Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that nearly one million people in the United States live with Parkinson’s disease in 2020. Age is a risk factor, but an estimated 4% of people with the disease are diagnosed before age 50.
Many are familiar with the symptoms of Parkinson’s, like tremors in the limbs. Slowed movement, or bradykinesia, also occurs over time. Rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, and loss of automatic movements like blinking and swinging arms while walking also can occur, advises the Mayo Clinic.
Like other neurodegenerative conditions, Parkinson’s is linked to changes in cells in the brain, which may gradually break down or die. Environmental triggers or genetics may also contribute to Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s also may be caused by shifting levels of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. When neurons break down, they produce less dopamine, and this causes abnormal brain activity.
Parkinson’s has no cure, and treatment of the disease is designed to slow progression and treat certain symptoms.
Parkinson’s patients and their families may be excited to learn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a new medication known as Nourianz (istradefylline). It is recommended for “off” time, when symptoms return between other medication doses.
Nourianz belongs to a class of medications known as adenosine A2A antagonists, which work differently from all currently available Parkinson’s drugs. This drug blocks the brain chemical adenosine, which boosts the signaling of dopamine, the brain chemical that decreases in Parkinson’s patients.
The medication can be added to a regimen consisting of levodopa/carbidopa to decrease off times. Four placebo-controlled clinical trials, which included more than 1,000 participants, demonstrated a significant decrease in “off” time when Nourianz was added to levodopa/carbidopa.
Levodopa is converted to dopamine in the brain. Carbidopa helps prevent the breakdown of levodopa before it can reach the brain and take effect. Parkinson’s patients can work with their doctors to find a regimen of drugs, therapy and support that may lessen their symptoms and improve their quality of life. (MC)