The drug levodopa should be used to confirm suspected Parkinson’s disease as well as treat it, writes neurologist Dr Peter LeWitt in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Henry Ford Hospital consultant says: “Within a few minutes of taking an oral dose of levodopa, a patient can recover from previous impairments in speech, dexterity and gait.
“Though the start of levodopa can be postponed … it may be the only effective option to control discomfort and disability even for mildly-affected patients.”
Parkinson’s occurs when brain neurons die and can no longer manufacture the molecule dopamine, a chemical critical for controlling movement.
Levodopa is a replacement, but while improving motor impairments it often does not provide relief from tremors and causes involuntary movements and other side effects.
The dose may need to be adjusted in the first few weeks to ensure maximum benefit, and might need tailoring to a patient’s needs, sometimes with other drugs to optimise its effects.
Says Dr LeWitt: “Although controlled-release preparations are designed for more extended drug delivery, they generally do not achieve the same effects as immediate-release tablets taken closer together.”
Copyright Press Association 2008