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Dr. Aditya Gupta
Leading Neurosurgeon at Medanta-The Medicity

The news came as a shock for Ravishankar Tomar when he learned that he had Parkinson’s disease, as he was only 34 and happened to be in the prime of his career.

Deepa Radhakrishnan, an editor at a publication house, was 38 when she noticed the tremor in her left hand. At first, her physician assured her that it was nothing. Later, on diagnosis Parkinson’s was confirmed.

Such cases, as startling as they are to those affected, are on the rise. Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. This may be due to genetic mutations or environmental toxins. The onset of symptoms is slow and may go unnoticed for several years.

Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease Gaining Pace

Traditionally, Parkinson’s disease had been thought of almost exclusively as a disease of the elderly, its onset typically restricted to those aged 60 years and above. But, nowadays physicians who specialize in neurological disorders say that in almost 10% patients, this disease affects people much earlier, when they are in their 30s and sometimes even in the teenage years.

Denial of symptoms in initial stages and the delusion that it is associated with old age, often results in only a small portion of sufferers consulting a medical specialist. Also, diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can pose difficulty as there is no diagnostic test to confirm it. On the basis of symptoms and physical examination only, it can be diagnosed by a doctor.

According to a research report published in New York, people with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease experience a faster progression of the disease, more severe psychological effects, and a tendency toward rejection of medications.

Younger patients seem to experience less dementia, but they suffer more pronounced side effects from drugs like confusion, hallucinations and excessive movement. They may also experience dystonia– in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.

Apart from physical disability, Parkinson’s disease also imposes psychological burden on young sufferers with many of them being in the midst of rearing children. Some are headlong into careers. Yet, others are studying in schools or colleges. The young also face an uncertain future, not knowing how debilitated they will be two or three decades later.

The young patients need to be counselled and informed by the doctor about how the disease progresses and the treatment options available for them, encouraging them to lead a normal life.

Symptoms & Complications of Parkinson’s Disease

  • Tremors, or trembling hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination
In advanced stages:
  • Difficulty in walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks
  • Cognitive problems (dementia) and thinking difficulties
  • Depression and emotional changes
  • Sleep problems
  • Uncontrolled urination
  • Sexual dysfunction
Treatment Modalities

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. Medication controls symptoms, mostly by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. Generally, these drugs have duration of 5-7 years during which they provide excellent relief to the patient. After this phase is over, surgery is the only hope available, as these young patients are in their thirties or forties at that time and have a requirement to lead a very active life.

The awareness about this well-accepted method of treatment is very limited not only among patients but also among physicians. It is imperative to check with a hospital that has a team of specialized neurologists and neurosurgeons with ample experience in specialized neurosurgeries in order to ensure safe and effective outcomes.

One of the most successful surgical procedures for Parkinson’s disease is Deep-Brain Stimulation. It involves surgical placement of electrical stimulators in specific areas of the brain that control movement. Unlike other surgical methods like pallidotomy and thalamotomy, this procedure is safe and does not harm brain tissue.

People diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease should not lose hope as effective treatment is now possible with advanced medical technology. Parkinson’s sufferers can manage to lead a normal and balanced life provided they are diagnosed early on and adopt appropriate treatment modality.

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