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Parkinson’s Disease

This is a chronic, degenerative disease of the brain which affects the voluntary control of the body. It usually affects people in middle to late life and is most common in the over 65s. It affects both sexes equally. Parkinson’s Disease occurs when particular cells in the brain which are important for the control of muscles and patterns of movement die. We don’t know why these cells die.

This loss of nerve cells in the brain reduces the amount of a chemical messenger called dopamine which is necessary for smooth, controlled movements of the body. When about 70% of these dopamine containing cells stop working the symptoms begin to appear. The main symptoms include stiffness, tremor, rigidity of muscles and slowness of movement. The tremor is worse at rest but stops during sleep. Lack of energy, tiredness and pain can also occur. Everyday activities can become difficult and Parkinson’s patients may walk in small shuffling steps. There can be a mask-like appearance of the face with a fixed expression, wide eyes and blinking. These patients often suffer from depressed moods. The symptoms begin gradually and become progressively worse over a period of years.

The treatment involves taking medication that controls the symptoms. The drugs do not slow the progression of the disease. A drug called levodopa is the primary treatment but it becomes less effective over five to seven years. It can then be combined with other drugs to improve its efficacy. Each patient must be treated on an individual basis as there is no optimum drug treatment. Each patient will have different symptoms, a different rate of progression of the disease, different lifestyle and different reaction to the drug therapy. The drug regime will need to be monitored and reviewed over time.

Diet is important in managing Parkinson’sDisease. The diet should be high in carbohydrates as it increases the absorption of levodopa and may increase the amount of the drug that reached the brain. Adequate fibre is necessary in the diet to prevent constipation and bowel disease. At least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid are required each day. The diet should be only moderate in protein as this slows the rate of absorption of levodopa. Finally the diet should be low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Some of the Parkinson’s medications cause nausea. To try to avoid this, the medication should be taken with a sweet, low-protein drink such as apple juice or with dry crispbread. Some patients may need prescription medicines to control nausea.

Further information and assistance with Parkinson’s Disease is available from:

The Parkinson’s Association of Ireland
Carmichael House
North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7.

Phone: 01-8722234
Freephone: 1800 359 359

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Kevin McCormack B.Sc. Pharm. MPSI