Parkinson’s: Study examines the potential of spinal cord stimulation

  • February 09, 2021

Close to one (1) million people may be living with Parkinson’s Diesease in the United States.  This long-term degenerative disorder results from damage to nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine.

As the symptoms of Parkinson’s develop, a person may first experience a tremor in one hand and stiffness elsewhere in the body. The four key symptoms are:

  • a tremor;
  • stiffness or tightness in the arms, legs, or elsewhere in the body;
  • slowed movement and difficulty initiating and coordinating movement — possibly presenting as a loss of facial expression or a slow, stuttering walk; and/or
  • difficulty with fine movements, such as doing up buttons.

Ultimately, a person experiences problems maintaining balance, and some people with Parkinson’s also develop dementia.  Certain people only develop motor symptoms and others have cognitive symptoms, and doctors are still unsure why this is.

Some people refer to dopamine as the “feel-good” hormone or chemical messenger.  It has various roles, including in movement coordination, and it is an active player in the brain’s reward system.

Most people with Parkinson’s also develop at least one (1) nonmotor symptoms.  The most common of these are sleep disturbances, a loss of smell, pain, constipation and excessive sweating.  People may also experience anxiety and neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as depression, apathy, or psychosis.  This wide array of symptoms can affect relationships and cause people with Parkinson’s to have lower self-worth and lose their sense of identity.

While the cause of Parkinson’s remains unknown, prescription treatments for dopamine deficiency and deep brain stimulation (DBS) are the gold-standard approaches.  However, dopamine treatment can cause side effects, such as dyskinesias, involuntary twisting movements of the body.  These usually diminish as the drug wears off.  Other adverse effects include gastrointestinal disturbances, hallucinations, anxiety, and muscle fatigue.  Meanwhile, DBS can cause brain bleeding, infection, and seizures.

Given the urgent need for treatments that alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms with minimal risks, a group of researchers has now investigated an alternate approach:  spinal cord stimulation.  They have published their findings in the journal Bioelectronic Medicine.

Assessing an alternate therapy

The researchers set out to determine whether spinal cord stimulation could be a singular therapy for Parkinson’s disease and a salvage therapy, in people for whom DBS is increasingly ineffective.  The study included 15 participants, with a mean age of 74 years.  On average, they had received the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease 17 years earlier.

Eight (8) had undergone DBS previously, and the others had only received medication, including pain relievers, as Parkinson’s treatment.  All experienced chronic pain that was resistant to pain relief medication and changes in their treatment for the disease.  When a particular nerve was involved, drugs called nerve blocks had been ineffective.  Once the study had begun, electrodes were surgically implanted under the participants’ skin near their spines.  The participants could choose to receive mild electric currents in three stimulation modes:  continuous tonic stimulation, continuous burst stimulation, or a cycling mode with burst stimulation, which provided stimulation for 10–15 seconds at a time, separated by pauses of 15–30 seconds.

REFERENCE:  Medical News Today; 04 OCT 2020; Anuradha Varanasi [Fact checked by Hilary Guite, FFPH, MRCGP]

Leave a Comment