Early diagnosis, the main challenge in Parkinson's disease

Some of the causes that originate Parkinson's disease are genetic or consumption of toxic agents and synthetic drugs. In case of involuntary tremors or difficulty in speaking or maintaining balance and movement, consult an expert in movement disorders. It is a serious problem of old age.

Early diagnosis, the main challenge in Parkinson's disease
Diagnosing Parkinson's disease at an early stage is the main challenge. Photo by CURVD® / Unsplash

Although Mexico lacks accurate statistics on how many people suffer from Parkinson's disease, in first-world nations, it is estimated that after the age of 60, at least six percent of the population suffers from it, according to José Bargas Díaz, a specialist at UNAM's Institute of Cellular Physiology (IFC).

It is a chronic disorder with which one can live up to 30 years, and it originates before the first motor signs appear, which is why it requires early diagnosis, since sometimes people take two to four years to go to the doctor.

Therefore, he suggests that when there is a suspicious symptom: involuntary tremors in a foot or hand, problems in pronouncing words, writing, or sleeping, it is time to go to a specialist in movement disorders.

It has been documented that the patient can present complications such as not sleeping well, having nightmares, talking while asleep, which can be accompanied by anxiety and depression, refers the expert in neuronal connectivity networks on the occasion of World Parkinson's Day, which is celebrated on April 11 and coincides with the anniversary of the birth of the British neurologist James Parkinson, who in 1817 described this problem as Agitant Paralysis. In Mexico, the National Human Rights Commission promotes the National Day for the Fight against Parkinson's Disease.

The late diagnosis is compounded by the fact that when the person has the first symptoms he/she tries to hide them from others, and is slow to admit that he/she requires treatment. This is a problem because the new, possible, and hypothetical neuroprotective drugs are not administered in time.

There are two variants of Parkinson's disease: juvenile and idiopathic. The former appears before the age of 30 or 40 and its causes are genetic; while the latter is one in which most of the cases come mainly from the consumption of toxic substances, bacterial infections, or accidents, although also due to genetic issues.

An example is the case of the Canadian-American actor Michael J. Fox who contracted it due to the synthetic drug MPTP. Currently, these types of toxins are used to replicate the symptoms of the disease in laboratory animals and to search for more efficient drugs or treatments against it.

Regarding genetic causes, the researcher details that failures have been detected in an organelle -subcellular structure- called peroxisome, which is in charge of discarding or eliminating proteins that have finished their life cycle; most of the genes related to Parkinson's are linked to proteins that help expel what is no longer useful.

"Basic research has revealed that the first deposits of pathological alpha-synuclein are seen in intestinal cells and then travel up the nerves that innervate the gut and into the brain. These deposits are not an infection per se, but the product of pathogenic bacteria that begin to contaminate our system as it spreads like an infectious agent. The alpha-synuclein behaves like a prion, that is to say, it is not a virus, it is not a bacterium, but it behaves as if it were both," he explains.

Other symptoms of Parkinson's disease are slowness in movements, muscular rigidity, alteration in posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, urinary or constipation problems, as well as difficulty in swallowing and chewing.

It is a serious problem of old age and public health in all countries; it is inconceivable that specialty hospitals, located in the most remote areas, do not have adequate treatment for the condition, because it must be seen by third-level specialists, and may even require brain stereotactic surgery by well-trained surgeons.