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St. Joseph Mercy Oakland leads the way as Michigan's first certified primary stroke center and home of the Michigan Stroke Network, the most advanced stroke response program in the nation. From top level neuroscience doctors to breakthrough treatments in brain injury care, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland caters to Michigan's neuroscience needs.

Danny Watson, MD
St. Joseph Mercy Oakland

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THE FACTS ABOUT Parkinsons Disease: A Progressive Disorder


Every year, nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s
disease. A chronic and progressive disorder, Parkinson’s disease
affects nerve cells in the part of the brain that control muscle
movement. More common in men than in women, the average
age of onset is about 60.

Podcast Posted: 10/13/2008
In the normal functioning brain, nerve cells produce a chemical
called dopamine —
a substance that transmits signals within the
brain to produce smooth movement of muscles. With Parkinson’s
disease, 80 percent of these dopamine-producing cells are
damaged or dead. As a result, nerve cells fire wildly, rendering
individuals unable to control their movements.

Symptoms of the disorder include trembling of hands, arms, and
legs; stiffness in the arms, legs, and trunk; slow movement; and poor
balance and coordination. As symptoms worsen, individuals may
have difficulty walking, talking, or performing simple daily activities.
Additionally, persons may have challenges with depression, sleep
problems, chewing, swallowing, or speaking.

Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is based on medical history,
observations of symptoms, and a full neurological examination,
which includes evaluation of walking, coordination, and dexterity.

“Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be difficult, especially in the
early stages,” says Danny F. Watson, MD, PhD, SJMO neurologist.
“Unfortunately, there are no definitive blood tests or diagnostic
studies available that can clearly identify the condition early on.
Symptoms are often mistaken for signs of aging. As the disease
develops, symptoms are usually unmistakable.”

Although Parkinson’s disease may eventually be disabling — it
progresses gradually, and most individuals have many years of
productive living after being diagnosed.

Most often, cardiac ablation is used to treat rapid heartbeats that
begin in the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart. Less frequently,
ablation can treat heart rhythm disorders that begin in the heart’s
lower chambers, known as ventricles.

Treatment for Parkinson’s disease includes medications, which can
make movement easier and enable those with the disorder to
function effectively for many years. A variety of newer medications
may also be helpful. Other approaches involve surgery, including
a thalamotomy, palidotomy, and deep brain stimulation to reduce
involuntary movements and tremors.

“Although exercise will not stop the progression of the disease,
it may improve mobility and body strength so that individuals are
less disabled,” says Dr. Watson. “Exercise also improves balance
and can strengthen muscles so that patients can speak and swallow

Although Parkinson’s disease may be difficult to identify in its
early stages, getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to beginning
appropriate treatment that may delay or manage symptoms for
years. It is important for individuals with symptoms of the disease
to consult their physician or neurologist for evaluation.

Please call the SMJO physician referral line at 800.372.6094 to find
an SJMO neurologist near you.


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