Tag Archives: symptoms

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Parkinson's Awareness

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that is chronic and progressive, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time.

As many as one million individuals in the US live with Parkinson’s disease. While approximately four percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before the age of 50, incidence increases with age.

Its major symptoms vary from person to person, but can include tremor, slowness of movements, limb stiffness, and difficulties with gait and balance. The cause of the disease is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage the symptoms.

If you have questions about wheelchair accessible vehicles and are in the New England area give us a call @ 508-697-6006

 

Autism Awareness Month

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

ASDs are “spectrum disorders” which means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.


Types of ASDs
There are three different types of ASDs:

  • Autistic Disorder (also called “classic” autism)
    This is what most people think of when hearing the word “autism.” People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.
  • Asperger Syndrome
    People with Asperger syndrome usually have some milder symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However, they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS; also called “atypical autism”)
    People who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all, may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges.


Signs and Symptoms
ASDs begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.

A person with an ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel


Diagnosis
Diagnosing ASDs can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.

ASDs can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need.


Treatment
There is currently no cure for ASDs. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has an ASD or other developmental problem.

Even if your child has not been diagnosed with an ASD, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.

In addition, treatment for particular symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not need to wait for a formal ASD diagnosis.

Learn about types of treatments »


Causes and Risk Factors
We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

  • Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD.
  • Children who have a sibling or parent with an ASD are at a higher risk of also having an ASD.
  • ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain other medical conditions. About 10% of children with an ASD have an identifiable genetic disorder, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders.
  • Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy have been linked with a higher risk of ASDs, for example, the prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid.
  • We know that the once common belief that poor parenting practices cause ASDs is not true.
  • There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASDs occurs before birth. However, concerns about vaccines and infections have led researchers to consider risk factors before and after birth.

ASDs are an urgent public health concern. Just like the many families affected in some way by ASDs, CDC wants to find out what causes the disorder. Understanding the risk factors that make a person more likely to develop an ASD will help us learn more about the causes. We are currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). SEED is looking at many possible risk factors for ASDs, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.


Who is Affected
ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are almost five times more common among boys than among girls. CDC estimates that about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

More people than ever before are being diagnosed with an ASD. It is unclear exactly how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASDs and better efforts in diagnosis. However, a true increase in the number of people with an ASD cannot be ruled out. We believe the increase in ASD diagnosis is likely due to a combination of these factors.

Within the past decade, CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network has been estimating the number of people with an ASD in the U.S. We have learned a lot about how many children in the U.S. have an ASD. It will be important to use the same methods to track how the number of people with an ASD is changing over time in order to learn more about the disorders.


If You’re Concerned
If you think your child might have an ASD or you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts,contact your child’s doctor, and share your concerns.

If you or the doctor is still concerned, ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child. Specialists who can do a more in-depth evaluation and make a diagnosis include:

  • Developmental Pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
  • Child Neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine, and nerves)
  • Child Psychologists or Psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)

At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.

Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:

  • If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system.You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) at 1-800-695-0285.Or visit the NICHCY website. Once you find your state on this webpage, look for the heading “Programs for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities: Ages Birth through 3″.
  • If your child is 3 years old or older, contact your local public school system.Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.If you’re not sure who to contact, call the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities at 1.800.695.0285 or visit the NICHCY website. Once you find your state on this webpage, look for the heading “Programs for Children with Disabilities: Ages 3 through 5″.

Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development. In order to make sure your child reaches his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for an ASD as soon as possible.

January Is Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is a very misunderstood disease. Often, people don’t realize the severity or who is affected.

Key Facts About Glaucoma

  • Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness
    Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. And unfortunately approximately 10% of people with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience loss of vision.
  • There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma
    Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision.
  • Everyone is at risk for glaucoma
    Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.
  • There may be no symptoms to warn you
    With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Usually, no pain is associated with increased eye pressure. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. If you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

Some Statistics About Glaucoma

  • It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it.
  • In the U.S., more than 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness.
  • Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
  • After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans.
  • Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
  • African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians.
  • The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19% of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6% in Caucasians.
  • Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
  • Estimates put the total number of suspected cases of glaucoma at over 60 million worldwide.

Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?
LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care

Friedreich’s Ataxia

Friedreich’s ataxia (also called FA or FRDA) is a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. It usually begins in childhood and leads to impaired muscle coordination (ataxia) that worsens over time. The disorder is named after Nicholaus Friedreich, a German doctor who first described the condition in the 1860s.

In Friedreich’s ataxia the spinal cord and peripheral nerves degenerate, becoming thinner. The cerebellum, part of the brain that coordinates balance and movement, also degenerates to a lesser extent. This damage results in awkward, unsteady movements and impaired sensory functions. The disorder also causes problems in the heart and spine, and some people with the condition develop diabetes. The disorder does not affect thinking and reasoning abilities (cognitive functions).

Friedreich’s ataxia is caused by a defect (mutation) in a gene labeled FXN. The disorder is recessive, meaning it occurs only in someone who inherits two defective copies of the gene, one from each parent. Although rare, Friedreich’s ataxia is the most common form of hereditary ataxia, affecting about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States. Both male and female children can inherit the disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms typically begin between the ages of 5 and 15 years, although they sometimes appear in adulthood and on rare occasions as late as age 75. The first symptom to appear is usually gait ataxia, or difficulty walking. The ataxia gradually worsens and slowly spreads to the arms and the trunk. There is often loss of sensation in the extremities, which may spread to other parts of the body. Other features include loss of tendon reflexes, especially in the knees and ankles. Most people with Friedreich’s ataxia develop scoliosis (a curving of the spine to one side), which often requires surgical intervention for treatment.

Dysarthria (slowness and slurring of speech) develops and can get progressively worse. Many individuals with later stages of Friedreich’s ataxia develop hearing and vision loss.

Other symptoms that may occur include chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. These symptoms are the result of various forms of heart disease that often accompany Friedreich’s ataxia, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart), myocardial fibrosis (formation of fiber-like material in the muscles of the heart), and cardiac failure. Heart rhythm abnormalities such as tachycardia (fast heart rate) and heart block (impaired conduction of cardiac impulses within the heart) are also common.

About 20 percent of people with Friedreich’s ataxia develop carbohydrate intolerance and 10 percent develop diabetes. Most individuals with Friedreich’s ataxia tire very easily and find that they require more rest and take a longer time to recover from common illnesses such as colds and flu.

The rate of progression varies from person to person. Generally, within 10 to 20 years after the appearance of the first symptoms, the person is confined to a wheelchair, and in later stages of the disease individuals may become completely incapacitated.

Friedreich’s ataxia can shorten life expectancy, and heart disease is the most common cause of death. However, some people with less severe features of Friedreich’s ataxia live into their sixties, seventies, or older.

How is Friedreich’s ataxia diagnosed?
A diagnosis of Friedreich’s ataxia requires a careful clinical examination, which includes a medical history and a thorough physical exam, in particular looking for balance difficulty, loss of proprioception (joint sensation), absence of reflexes, and signs of neurological problems. Genetic testing now provides a conclusive diagnosis. Other tests that may aid in the diagnosis or management of the disorder include:

  • electromyogram (EMG), which measures the electrical activity of muscle cells,
  • nerve conduction studies, which measure the speed with which nerves transmit impulses,
  • electrocardiogram (ECG), which gives a graphic presentation of the electrical activity or beat pattern of the heart,
  • echocardiogram, which records the position and motion of the heart muscle,
  • blood tests to check for elevated glucose levels and vitamin E levels, and
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, tests which provide brain and spinal cord images that are useful for ruling out other neurological conditions.

How is Friedreich’s ataxia inherited?
Friedreich’s ataxia is an autosomal recessive disease, meaning individuals only develop symptoms if they inherit two copies of the defective FXN gene, one from their father and one from their mother. A person who has only one abnormal copy of the gene is called a carrier. A carrier will not develop the disease but could pass the gene mutation on to his or her children. If both parents are carriers, their children will have a 1 in 4 chance of having the disease and a 1 in 2 chance of inheriting one abnormal gene that they, in turn, could pass on to their children. About one in 90 Americans of European ancestry carries an abnormal FXN gene.

In 1996, an international research team identified the Friedreich’s ataxia gene on chromosome 9. The FXN gene codes for production of a protein called “frataxin.” In the normal version of the gene, a sequence of DNA (labeled “GAA”) is repeated between 7 and 22 times. In the defective FXN gene, the repeat occurs over and over again—hundreds, even up to a thousand times.

This abnormal pattern, called a triplet repeat expansion, has been implicated as the cause of several dominantly inherited diseases, but Friedreich’s ataxia is the only known recessive genetic disorder caused by the problem. Almost all people with Friedreich’s ataxia have two copies of this mutant form of FXN, but it is not found in all cases of the disease. About two percent of affected individuals have other defects in the FXN gene that are responsible for causing the disease.

The triplet repeat expansion greatly disrupts the normal production of frataxin. Frataxin is found in the energy-producing parts of the cell called mitochondria. Research suggests that without a normal level of frataxin, certain cells in the body (especially peripheral nerve, spinal cord, brain and heart muscle cells) cannot effectively produce energy and have been hypothesized to have a buildup of toxic byproducts leading to what is called “oxidative stress.” It also may lead to increased levels of iron in the mitochondria. When the excess iron reacts with oxygen, free radicals can be produced. Although free radicals are essential molecules in the body’s metabolism, they can also destroy cells and harm the body. Research continues on this subject (see section on “What research is being done?”).

Can Friedreich’s ataxia be cured or treated?
As with many degenerative diseases of the nervous system, there is currently no cure or effective treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia. However, many of the symptoms and accompanying complications can be treated to help individuals maintain optimal functioning as long as possible. Doctors can prescribe treatments for diabetes, if present; some of the heart problems can be treated with medication as well. Orthopedic problems such as foot deformities and scoliosis can be corrected with braces or surgery. Physical therapy may prolong use of the arms and legs. Advances in understanding the genetics of Friedreich’s ataxia are leading to breakthroughs in treatment. Research has moved forward to the point where clinical trials of proposed treatments are presently occurring for Friedreich’s ataxia.

What services are useful to Friedreich’s ataxia patients and their families?
Genetic testing is essential for proper clinical diagnosis, and can aid in prenatal diagnosis and determining a person’s carrier status. Genetic counselors can help explain how Friedreich’s ataxia is inherited. Psychological counseling and support groups for people with genetic diseases may also help affected individuals and their families cope with the disease.

A primary care physician can screen people for complications such as heart disease, diabetes and scoliosis, and can refer individuals to specialists such as cardiologists, physical therapists, and speech therapists to help deal with some of the other associated problems.

Support and information for families is also available through a number of private organizations. These groups can offer ways to network and communicate with others affected by Friedreich’s ataxia. They can also provide access to patient registries, clinical trials information, and other useful resources.

What research is being done?
Within the Federal government the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has primary responsibility for sponsoring research on neurological disorders. As part of this mission, the NINDS conducts research on Friedreich’s ataxia and other forms of inherited ataxias at its facilities at the NIH and supports additional studies at medical centers throughout the United States. Several nonprofit organizations also provide substantial support research (see the section on “Where can I get more information?”).

Researchers are optimistic that they have begun to understand the causes of the disease, and work has begun to develop effective treatments and prevention strategies for Friedreich’s ataxia. Scientists have been able to create various models of the disease in yeast and mice which have facilitated understanding the cause of the disease and are now being used for drug discovery and the development of novel treatments.

Studies have revealed that frataxin is an important mitochondrial protein for proper function of several organs. Yet in people with the disease, the amount of frataxin in affected cells is severely reduced. It is believed that the loss of frataxin makes the nervous system, heart, and pancreas particularly susceptible to damage from free radicals (produced when the excess iron reacts with oxygen). Once certain cells in these tissues are destroyed by free radicals they cannot be replaced. Nerve and muscle cells also have metabolic needs that may make them particularly vulnerable to this damage. Free radicals have been implicated in other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Based upon this information, scientists and physicians have tried to reduce the levels of free radicals, also called oxidants, using treatment with “antioxidants.” Initial clinical studies in Europe suggested that antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, and idebenone may offer individuals some limited benefit. However, recent clinical trials in the United States and Europe have not revealed effectiveness of idebenone in people with Friedreich’s ataxia, but more powerful modified forms of this agent and other antioxidants are in trials at this time. There is also a clinical trial to examine the efficacy of selectively removing excess iron from the mitochondria.

Scientists also are exploring ways to increase frataxin levels through drug treatments, genetic engineering and protein delivery systems. Several compounds that are directed at increasing levels of frataxin may be brought to clinical trials in the near future. To check for current trials, visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Additional information is available from the groups listed in the following section.

Armed with what they currently know about frataxin and Friedreich’s ataxia, scientists are working to better define fraxatin’s role, clarify how defects in iron metabolism may be involved in the disease process, and explore new therapeutic approaches for therapy.

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
    One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
    Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
    People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • Confusion with time or place
    People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
    For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
    People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
    A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
  • Decreased or poor judgment
    People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
    A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  • Changes in mood and personality
    The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

Myasthenia Gravis

What is myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal (voluntary) muscles of the body. The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, literally means “grave muscle weakness.” With current therapies, however, most cases of myasthenia gravis are not as “grave” as the name implies. In fact, most individuals with myasthenia gravis have a normal life expectancy.

The hallmark of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness that increases during periods of activity and improves after periods of rest. Certain muscles such as those that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, talking, and swallowing are often, but not always, involved in the disorder. The muscles that control breathing and neck and limb movements may also be affected.

What causes myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. It occurs when normal communication between the nerve and muscle is interrupted at the neuromuscular junction—the place where nerve cells connect with the muscles they control. Normally when impulses travel down the nerve, the nerve endings release a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine travels from the neuromuscular junction and binds to acetylcholine receptors which are activated and generate a muscle contraction.

In myasthenia gravis, antibodies block, alter, or destroy the receptors for acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, which prevents the muscle contraction from occurring. These antibodies are produced by the body’s own immune system. Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease because the immune system—which normally protects the body from foreign organisms—mistakenly attacks itself.

What is the role of the thymus gland in myasthenia gravis?
The thymus gland, which lies in the chest area beneath the breastbone, plays an important role in the development of the immune system in early life. Its cells form a part of the body’s normal immune system. The gland is somewhat large in infants, grows gradually until puberty, and then gets smaller and is replaced by fat with age. In adults with myasthenia gravis, the thymus gland remains large and is abnormal. It contains certain clusters of immune cells indicative of lymphoid hyperplasia—a condition usually found only in the spleen and lymph nodes during an active immune response. Some individuals with myasthenia gravis develop thymomas (tumors of the thymus gland). Thymomas are generally benign, but they can become malignant.

The relationship between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis is not yet fully understood. Scientists believe the thymus gland may give incorrect instructions to developing immune cells, ultimately resulting in autoimmunity and the production of the acetylcholine receptor antibodies, thereby setting the stage for the attack on neuromuscular transmission.

What are the symptoms of myasthenia gravis?
Although myasthenia gravis may affect any voluntary muscle, muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, and swallowing are most frequently affected. The onset of the disorder may be sudden and symptoms often are not immediately recognized as myasthenia gravis.

In most cases, the first noticeable symptom is weakness of the eye muscles. In others, difficulty in swallowing and slurred speech may be the first signs. The degree of muscle weakness involved in myasthenia gravis varies greatly among individuals, ranging from a localized form limited to eye muscles (ocular myasthenia), to a severe or generalized form in which many muscles—sometimes including those that control breathing—are affected. Symptoms, which vary in type and severity, may include a drooping of one or both eyelids (ptosis), blurred or double vision (diplopia) due to weakness of the muscles that control eye movements, unstable or waddling gait, a change in facial expression, difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath, impaired speech (dysarthria), and weakness is the arms, hands, fingers, legs, and neck.

Who gets myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis occurs in all ethnic groups and both genders. It most commonly affects young adult women (under 40) and older men (over 60), but it can occur at any age.

In neonatal myasthenia, the fetus may acquire immune proteins (antibodies) from a mother affected with myasthenia gravis. Generally, cases of neonatal myasthenia gravis are temporary and the child’s symptoms usually disappear within 2-3 months after birth. Other children develop myasthenia gravis indistinguishable from adults. Myasthenia gravis in juveniles is uncommon.

Myasthenia gravis is not directly inherited nor is it contagious. Occasionally, the disease may occur in more than one member of the same family.

Rarely, children may show signs of congenital myasthenia or congenital myasthenic syndrome. These are not autoimmune disorders, but are caused by defective genes that produce abnormal proteins instead of those which normally would produce acetylcholine, acetylcholinesterase (the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine), or the acetylcholine receptor and other proteins present along the muscle membrane.

How is myasthenia gravis diagnosed?
Because weakness is a common symptom of many other disorders, the diagnosis of myasthenia gravis is often missed or delayed (sometimes up to two years) in people who experience mild weakness or in those individuals whose weakness is restricted to only a few muscles.

The first steps of diagnosing myasthenia gravis include a review of the individual’s medical history, and physical and neurological examinations. The physician looks for impairment of eye movements or muscle weakness without any changes in the individual’s ability to feel things. If the doctor suspects myasthenia gravis, several tests are available to confirm the diagnosis.

A special blood test can detect the presence of immune molecules or acetylcholine receptor antibodies. Most patients with myasthenia gravis have abnormally elevated levels of these antibodies. Recently, a second antibody—called the anti-MuSK antibody—has been found in about 30 to 40 percent of individuals with myasthenia gravis who do not have acetylcholine receptor antibodies. This antibody can also be tested for in the blood. However, neither of these antibodies is present in some individuals with myasthenia gravis, most often in those with ocular myasthenia gravis.

The edrophonium test uses intravenous administration of edrophonium chloride to very briefly relieve weakness in people with myasthenia gravis. The drug blocks the degradation (breakdown) of acetylcholine and temporarily increases the levels of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction. Other methods to confirm the diagnosis include a version of nerve conduction study which tests for specific muscle “fatigue” by repetitive nerve stimulation. This test records weakening muscle responses when the nerves are repetitively stimulated by small pulses of electricity. Repetitive stimulation of a nerve during a nerve conduction study may demonstrate gradual decreases of the muscle action potential due to impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission.

Single fiber electromyography (EMG) can also detect impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission. EMG measures the electrical potential of muscle cells when single muscle fibers are stimulated by electrical impulses. Muscle fibers in myasthenia gravis, as well as other neuromuscular disorders, do not respond as well to repeated electrical stimulation compared to muscles from normal individuals.

Diagnostic imaging of the chest, using computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be used to identify the presence of a thymoma.

Pulmonary function testing, which measures breathing strength, helps to predict whether respiration may fail and lead to a myasthenic crisis.

How is myasthenia gravis treated?
Today, myasthenia gravis can generally be controlled. There are several therapies available to help reduce and improve muscle weakness. Medications used to treat the disorder include anticholinesterase agents such as neostigmine and pyridostigmine, which help improve neuromuscular transmission and increase muscle strength. Immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisone, azathioprine, cyclosporin, mycophenolate mofetil, and tacrolimus may also be used. These medications improve muscle strength by suppressing the production of abnormal antibodies. Their use must be carefully monitored by a physician because they may cause major side effects.

Thymectomy, the surgical removal of the thymus gland (which often is abnormal in individuals with myasthenia gravis), reduces symptoms in some individuals without thymoma and may cure some people, possibly by re-balancing the immune system. Thymectomy is recommended for individuals with thymoma. Other therapies used to treat myasthenia gravis include plasmapheresis, a procedure in which serum containing the abnormal antibodies is removed from the blood while cells are replaced, and high-dose intravenous immune globulin, which temporarily modifies the immune system by infusing antibodies from donated blood. These therapies may be used to help individuals during especially difficult periods of weakness. A neurologist will determine which treatment option is best for each individual depending on the severity of the weakness, which muscles are affected, and the individual’s age and other associated medical problems.

What are myasthenic crises?
A myasthenic crisis occurs when the muscles that control breathing weaken to the point that ventilation is inadequate, creating a medical emergency and requiring a respirator for assisted ventilation. In individuals whose respiratory muscles are weak, crises—which generally call for immediate medical attention—may be triggered by infection, fever, or an adverse reaction to medication.

What is the prognosis?
With treatment, most individuals with myasthenia can significantly improve their muscle weakness and lead normal or nearly normal lives. Some cases of myasthenia gravis may go into remission—either temporarily or permanently—and muscle weakness may disappear completely so that medications can be discontinued. Stable, long-lasting complete remissions are the goal of thymectomy and may occur in about 50 percent of individuals who undergo this procedure. In a few cases, the severe weakness of myasthenia gravis may cause respiratory failure, which requires immediate emergency medical care.

Mental Health Awareness

Trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness.

Each illness has its own set of symptoms but some common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following.

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents)

Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Mental Illness Awareness

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since then, mental health advocates across the country have joined with others in their communities to sponsor activities, large or small, for public education about mental illness.

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Rett Syndrome Awareness

What is Rett Syndrome?
Rett syndrome is a postnatal neurological disorder seen almost always in girls, but can be rarely seen in boys. It is not a degenerative disorder.

Rett syndrome is caused by mutations on the X chromosome on a gene called MECP2. There are more than 200 different mutations found on the MECP2 gene. Most of these mutations are found in eight different “hot spots.”

Rett syndrome strikes all racial and ethnic groups, and occurs worldwide in 1 of every 10,000 to 23,000 female births.

Rett syndrome causes problems in brain function that are responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotional, motor and autonomic function. These can include learning, speech, sensory sensations, mood, movement, breathing, cardiac function, and even chewing, swallowing, and digestion.

Rett syndrome symptoms appear after an early period of apparently normal or near normal development until six to eighteen months of life, when there is a slowing down or stagnation of skills. A period of regression then follows when she loses communication skills and purposeful use of her hands. Soon, stereotyped hand movements such as handwashing, gait disturbances, and slowing of the normal rate of head growth become apparent. Other problems may include seizures and disorganized breathing patterns while she is awake. In the early years, there may be a period of isolation or withdrawal when she is irritable and cries inconsolably. Over time, motor problems may increase, but in general, irritability lessens and eye contact and communication improve.

Rett syndrome can present with a wide range of disability ranging from mild to severe. The course and severity of Rett syndrome is determined by the location, type and severity of her mutation and X-inactivation. Therefore, two girls of the same age with the same mutation can appear quite different.


Testing and Diagnosis
Rett syndrome is most often misdiagnosed as autism, cerebral palsy, or non-specific developmental delay. In the past, making the correct diagnosis called not only for a long list of diagnostic tests and procedures to rule out other disorders, but it also took from months to years waiting to confirm the diagnosis as new symptoms appeared over time. Today, we have a simple blood test to confirm the diagnosis. However, since we know that the MECP2 mutation is also seen in other disorders, the presence of the MECP2 mutation in itself is not enough for the diagnosis of Rett syndrome. Diagnosis requires either the presence of the mutation (a molecular diagnosis) or fulfillment of the diagnostic criteria (a clinical diagnosis, based on signs and symptoms that you can observe) or both. Below is a list of labs to share with your ordering physician that can do the MECP2 sequencing + deletion analysis, and the list of diagnostic criteria.

Lymphoma Awareness

What Is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a group of cancers that begins in the lymphatic system. The function of the lymphatic system is to drain excess tissue fluid called lymph. The lymphatic system also contains blood cells known as lymphocytes, which are important in fighting infection. Lymphoma is the uncontrolled growth of lymphocytes.

What Are the Types of Lymphoma?
There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is recognized by the presence of special cells that can be seen under the micros cope, called the Reed-Sternberg cell. Only 12.5% of all lymphomasare the Hodgkin’s type.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the most common type of lymphoma and is divided into many groups of lymphatic cancers. There are many different types of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
What Are the Key Statistics About Lymphoma?
  • In the year 2015, about 80,900 people will be diagno sed with lymphoma. About 71,850 are expected to have the Non-Hodgkin’s type and about 9,050 for the Hodgkin’s type of lymphoma. Approximately 20,940 people will die of the disease this year.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoma?
  • A swelling of lymph nodes that does not cause pain. Lymph nodes are groups of cells found along the path of lymphatic vessels. They filter the lymphatic fluid and remove harmful substances. The most common sites of lymph node swellings are in the neck, armpit, groin, or the abdomen.
  • General symptoms can include fever, sweating, fatigue, loss of appetite, and bony pain.
  • There are no known strategies to prevent lymphoma.
What Are the Causes of Lymphoma?
  • In most cases, the cause of lymphoma remains unknown.
  • Patients with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Stomach lymphoma can be caused by an infection in the stomach called Helicobacter Pylori. This infection is sometimes found in people that have stomach ulcers.

Leukemia Awareness

What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, which help fight infection. It is caused by the uncontrolled growth of these cells. Leukemia starts in the bone marrow,
which is the spongy part inside the bones where blood cells are made. The cancer cells spread to the blood that circulates in the arteries and veins.
What Are the Key Statistics About Leukemia?
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that 54,270 people will be diagnosed with leukemia this year.
  • About 24,450 people are expected to die from leukemia in the year 2015.
  • Leukemia is commonly thought of as a childhood disease, yet it is diagnosed 10 times more often in adults
What Are the Types of Leukemia?
  • Based on the time it takes one to develop the disease, leukemia has two forms,acute and chronic leukemia.
  • Acute leukemia begins over a short period of time. In acute leukemia, there is a fast growth of immature cells in the bone marrow and peripheral blood.
  • Chronic leukemia develops over a longer period of time. Compared to acute leukemia, it has more mature cells in the bone marrow and peripheral blood.
  • Based on the type of blood cells, leukemia is divided into lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia?
  • There are no exact signs and symptoms of leukemia.
  • General symptoms include fatigue, or lack of energy, and flu-like symptoms including fever.
  • A loss of appetite may also occur.
  • Shortness of breath when active and a pale color of the skin and mucous membranes (this includes the lining of the inside of the nose and mouth). These symptoms are related to anemia, which is a decrease in the red blood cells that carry oxygen.
  • Easy bruising and bleeding due to a drop in the platelet count. Platelets are part of the blood cells that help form blood clots.Poor wound healing and infections.
  • This is because many of the white cells are immature and therefore not able to do their job.
What Are the Causes of Leukemia?
  • The exact cause of leukemia is not known.
  • In very rare cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy used to treat one cancer leads to leukemia.
  • There are no known ways to prevent leukemia.

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy

What is limb-girdle muscular dystrophy?
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy is a term for a group of diseases that cause weakness and wasting of the muscles in the arms and legs. The muscles most affected are those closest to the body (proximal muscles), specifically the muscles of the shoulders, upper arms, pelvic area, and thighs.

The severity, age of onset, and features of limb-girdle muscle dystrophy vary among the many subtypes of this condition and may be inconsistent even within the same family. Signs and symptoms may first appear at any age and generally worsen with time, although in some cases they remain mild.

In the early stages of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, affected individuals may have an unusual walking gait, such as waddling or walking on the balls of their feet, and may also have difficulty running. They may need to use their arms to press themselves up from a squatting position because of their weak thigh muscles. As the condition progresses, people with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy may eventually require wheelchair assistance.

Muscle wasting may cause changes in posture or in the appearance of the shoulder, back, and arm. In particular, weak shoulder muscles tend to make the shoulder blades (scapulae) “stick out” from the back, a sign known as scapular winging. Affected individuals may also have an abnormally curved lower back (lordosis) or a spine that curves to the side (scoliosis). Some develop joint stiffness (contractures) that can restrict movement in their hips, knees, ankles, or elbows. Overgrowth (hypertrophy) of the calf muscles occurs in some people with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.

Weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) occurs in some forms of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Some affected individuals experience mild to severe breathing problems related to the weakness of muscles needed for breathing.

Intelligence is generally unaffected in limb-girdle muscular dystrophy; however, developmental delay and intellectual disability have been reported in rare forms of the disorder.

How common is limb-girdle muscular dystrophy?
It is difficult to determine the prevalence of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy because its features vary and overlap with those of other muscle disorders. Prevalence estimates range from 1 in 14,500 to 1 in 123,000 individuals.

Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease

What is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
Muscle-eye-brain disease (MEB) is an inherited condition causing a number of symptoms including muscle weakness, vision abnormalities, brain structure abnormalities, and severe mental disability.MEB causes congenital muscular dystrophy, a form of muscle weakness that is present from birth or develops shortly after birth. It causes an infant to feel floppy in all of his or her muscles, including those of the face. He or she may also exhibit involuntary muscle jerks or twitches.Eye problems associated with MEB include severe near-sightedness and glaucoma, among others.Another hallmark of MEB is a brain abnormality known as cobblestone lissencephaly (or type II lissencephaly). The brain develops a bumpy “cobblestone” appearance and lacks the normal folding structure. Other structural changes in the brain are also present. Children with MEB may have a buildup of fluid around the brain that can create a dangerous amount of pressure.The severity of symptoms can vary among people with MEB.

How Common is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
MEB is very rare, although its exact prevalence is unknown.

How is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease Treated?
There is no successful treatment or cure for MEB. Medical specialists can help treat specific symptoms, such as using medication to control seizures, physical and occupational therapy to aid in movement, and special eye glasses to help make the most of the child’s vision.

What is the Prognosis for a Person With Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
The prognosis for a person with MEB varies depending on the severity of the symptoms, but is generally poor. Studies have shown people with MEB typically die between the ages of 6 and 16.

Resources
Muscular Dystrophy Association
A non-profit organization that supports research into and education about neuromuscular diseases. It is best known for its annual telethon led by entertainer Jerry Lewis.

  • 3300 East Sunrise Drive
    Tucson, AZ 85718
  • Phone: (800) 572-1717
  • Secondary Phone: (520) 529-2000
  • mda@mdausa.org

Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?
LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care

Fryns Syndrome

Fryns syndrome is an extremely rare inherited disorder characterized by multiple abnormalities that are present at birth (congenital). Characteristic symptoms and physical findings include protrusion of part of the stomach and/or small intestines into the chest cavity (diaphragmatic hernia), abnormalities of the head and face area (craniofacial region), and underdevelopment of the ends of the fingers and toes (distal digit hypoplasia). Additional symptoms include underdevelopment (hypoplasia) of the lungs, incomplete closure of the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), cardiac defects, and varying degrees of mental retardation. Fryns syndrome is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.

Symptoms
Fryns syndrome is associated with numerous abnormalities of varying severity such as protrusion of part of the stomach and/or small intestines into the chest cavity (diaphragmatic hernia), unusual facial features, and abnormalities of the fingers and toes. The number and severity of symptoms and physical findings will vary greatly from case to case.

Some symptoms such as diaphragmatic hernia, underdevelopment of the lungs, and cardiac defects may result in life-threatening complications during the newborn (neonatal) period.

Approximately 89 percent of all infants with Fryns syndrome have diaphragmatic hernia of varying degrees of severity. Lung hypoplasia and deformity of the lobes of the lungs also occurs in most cases. In some cases, affected infants may also have an abnormally small upper chest (thorax) and abnormal accumulation of milky fluid (chyle) in the thorax (chylothorax). Cases of Fryns syndrome in which affected infants do not have diaphragmatic hernia are considered less severe.

Infants with Fryns syndrome also have characteristic facial features that give the face a coarse appearance. These features include an abnormally small jaw (micrognathia) that may be displaced father back than normal (retrognathia); a broad, flat nasal bridge; an abnormally wide mouth (macrostomia); and incomplete closure of the roof of the mouth (cleft palate). In addition, affected infants may also have cloudy lenses of the eyes (corneal clouding); malformation (dysplasia) of the outer ears (pinnae) with underdeveloped lobes; an abnormal groove in the upper lip (cleft lip); a large, upturned nose; and a short, broad neck.

Another characteristic symptom of Fryns syndrome is underdevelopment of the tips of the fingers and toes (distal digit or acral hypoplasia). Affected infants may have underdeveloped or absent nails, abnormally short bones in the tips of the fingers and toes (terminal phalanges), and permanently flexed fingers (camptodactyly).

Affected infants may also have various abnormalities affecting the central nervous system. In approximately 50 percent of cases, Dandy-Walker malformation may be present. Dandy-Walker malformation is a rare malformation of the brain characterized by an abnormally enlarged space at the back of the brain (cystic 4th ventricle) that interferes with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the openings between the ventricle and other parts of the brain. In many cases, an abnormal cystic growth consisting of dilated lymph vessels beneath the skin in the neck area (cystic hygroma) may be present. Affected infants may also exhibit absence of the thick band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain (agenesis of the corpus callosum), accumulation of excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the skull (hydrocephalus), and absence of a structure of the brain (rhinecephalon) associated with the sense of smell (arrhinencephaly). For more information on these disorders, choose “Hydrocephalus” “Dandy Walker” and “Agenesis of Corpus Callosum” as your search terms in the Rare Disease Database.)

Approximately 55 percent of infants with Fryns syndrome exhibit congenital heart (cardiac) defects including atrial and ventricular septal defects (VSDs and ASDs). These septal defects are the most common structural heart defects. ASDs are characterized by an abnormal opening in the fibrous partition (septum) that separates the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart. VSDs are characterized by an abnormal opening in the septum that divides the heart’s two lower chambers (ventricles).

Skeletal abnormalities may be present in some infants with Fryns syndrome including abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine (scoliosis), extra ribs, and (osteochondrodysplasia).

Some infants with Fryns syndrome may have abnormalities of the genitourinary system. Females may exhibit malformation of the uterus with unusual “horn-shaped” branches (bicornuate uterus) and underdeveloped ovaries. Males may experience failure of one or both testes to descend into the scrotum (cryptorchidism) and placement of the urinary opening on the underside of the penis (hypospadias). Kidney (renal) abnormalities may also be present including cysts in the kidneys and malformation (dysplasia) of the kidneys.

Digestive abnormalities secondary to diaphragmatic hernia may also occur in some infants with Fryns syndrome including twisting (malrotation) of the intestines, protrusion of part of the intestines through an abnormal opening near the umbilical cord (omphalocele), esophageal atresia, and/or imperforate anus. Esophageal atresia is a condition in which the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) ends in a pouch instead of connecting to the stomach. Imperforate anus is a rare condition in which a thin covering (membrane) blocks the anal opening or the passage that connects the anus and the lowest part of the large intestine (rectum) fails to develop.

Causes
Fryns syndrome is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. Human traits, including the classic genetic diseases, are the product of the interaction of two genes, one received from the father and one from the mother.

In recessive disorders, the condition does not occur unless an individual inherits the same defective gene for the same trait from each parent. If an individual receives one normal gene and one gene for the disease, the person will be a carrier for the disease, but usually will not show symptoms. The risk of transmitting the disease to the children of a couple, both of whom are carriers for a recessive disorder, is 25 percent. Fifty percent of their children risk being carriers of the disease, but generally will not show symptoms of the disorder. Twenty-five percent of their children may receive both normal genes, one from each parent, and will be genetically normal (for that particular trait). The risk is the same for each pregnancy.

Parents of several individuals with the disorder have been closely related (consanguineous). If both parents carry the same disease gene, then there is a higher-than-normal risk that there children may inherit the two genes necessary for the development of the disorder.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis early signs, symptoms can be in such a mild form as not to be initially detectable.

MS early symptoms and signs appear at the onset of the disease, usually between the ages of 20 and 40. MS early symptoms and signs vary in duration and severity from one individual to the other and at different times in the same individual.

The most recurrent are:

  • walking difficulties
  • the sensation of having a weak or numb limb
  • cold or tingling feet
  • facial pain (Neuralgia)
  • blurred vision

Less common MS early symptoms include:

  • lack of coordination
  • cognitive difficulties
  • slurred speech
  • sudden onset of paralysis

As the disease progresses other symptoms can appear.

MS Pain
MS pain is the type of pain that affects the central nervous system and pain syndromes are common amongst MS patients. Almost 50% of MS patients suffer s from chronic pain. There are several types of MS pain. The main types are:

  • Neuralgia, which is a stabbing pain in the face; it is usually treated with anticonvulsants.
  • Dysesthesias, which is a burning, aching body pain; it is usually treated with anticonvulsants and sometimes with antidepressants which act on the nervous central system.
  • Lhermitte sign, which is a brief, electric shock like sensation that runs down the spine and is caused by bending the neck forward or backward. It is controlled by means of a soft collar.
  • A chronic sensation of ‘pins and needles’, which is treated similarly to acute Dysesthesias.
  • Muscle spasm and cramps, which are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Back and skeleton pains, which are treated with heat, massage and physical therapy.

National Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that infects people of all ages and is usually harmless to people with a healthy immune system. Most people have been exposed to CMV at some point in their lifetime without realizing it. It is estimated that 50-80% of adults in the United States have been infected with CMV by the time they reach 40 years old. Most infections with CMV are “silent” or asymptomatic, meaning most people who are infected with CMV have no signs or symptoms. Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life. no signs or symptoms occurs when a pregnant woman is exposed to CMV and the CMV passes from the pregnant woman to her unborn child, causing birth defects and developmental disabilities.

Acquired CMV infection is when a person is infected with CMV after birth, during childhood or adulthood.

Acquired CMV
Most healthy people with an acquired CMV infection will generally have few, if any, symptoms or complications from the infection. Because infections among healthy persons are common and typically asymptomatic, efforts to prevent transmission among healthy children and adults are not necessary.

At-Risk Populations
CMV can cause serious problems for people with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised) due to organ transplants, HIV/AIDS infection, chemotherapy, and medications such as glucocorticoids, cytostatics, antibodies, drugs acting on immunophilins, as well as other drugs.

In children and adults with organ transplants, CMV infections are linked with rejection or malfunction of the transplant.

In immunocompromised people, CMV can attack specific organs. Types and symptoms of CMV infections include, but are not exclusive/limited to:

  • Esophagus (CMV esophagitis)
  • Stomach or intestines (CMV gastroenteritis) – Diarrhea, swallowing difficulties or pain, and ulcerations with bleeding
  • Eye (CMV retinitis) – Blindness, floaters in the eye, and visual impairment
  • Lung (CMV pneumonia) – Pneumonia with impaired oxygen uptake (hypoxia)
  • Brain – Coma, encephalitis with behavioral changes, and seizures

Arthritis Awareness

Arthritis is very common but is not well understood. Actually, “arthritis” is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. Nearly 53 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.

Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years, but may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.

There are different types of arthritis:

Degenerative Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. When the cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Over time, joints can lose strength and pain may become chronic. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury (an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tear, for example).

When the joint symptoms of osteoarthritis are mild or moderate, they can be managed by:

  • balancing activity with rest
  • using hot and cold therapies
  • regular physical activity
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • strengthening the muscles around the joint for added support
  • using assistive devices
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines
  • avoiding excessive repetitive movements

If joint symptoms are severe, causing limited mobility and affecting quality of life, some of the above management strategies may be helpful, but joint replacement may be necessary.

Osteoarthritis can prevented by staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding injury and repetitive movements.

Inflammatory Arthritis
A healthy immune system is protective. It generates internal inflammation to get rid of infection and prevent disease. But the immune system can go awry, mistakenly attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, potentially causing joint erosion and may damage internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger autoimmunity. Smoking is an example of an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with certain genes.

With autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical. Slowing disease activity can help minimize or even prevent permanent joint damage. Remission is the goal and may be achieved through the use of one or more medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage.

Infectious Arthritis
A bacterium, virus or fungus can enter the joint and trigger inflammation. Examples of organisms that can infect joints are salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (a blood-to-blood infection, often through shared needles or transfusions). In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.

Metabolic Arthritis
Uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of the uric acid quickly enough. In some people the uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a gout attack. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, it can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability.

Diagnosing Arthritis
Arthritis diagnosis often begins with a primary care physician, who performs a physical exam and may do blood tests and imaging scans to help determine the type of arthritis. An arthritis specialist, or rheumatologist, should be involved if the diagnosis is uncertain or if the arthritis may be inflammatory. Rheumatologists typically manage ongoing treatment for inflammatory arthritis, gout and other complicated cases. Orthopaedic surgeons do joint surgery, including joint replacements. When the arthritis affects other body systems or parts, other specialists, such as ophthalmologists, dermatologists or dentists, may also be included in the health care team.

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both mental faculties and physical control. Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 30 to 50, and worsen over a 10 to 25 year period. Ultimately, the weakened individual succumbs to pneumonia, heart failure or other complications.

Everyone has the HD gene but it is those individuals that inherit the expansion of the gene who will develop HD and perhaps pass it onto each of their children.

Presently, there is no cure. Although medications can relieve some symptoms, research has yet to find a means of slowing the deadly progression of HD.

Current estimates are that 1 in every 10,000 Americans has HD and more than 250,000 others are at-risk of having inherited it from a parent. Once thought a rare disease, HD is now considered one of the more common hereditary diseases.

Every person who inherits the expanded HD gene will eventually develop the disease.
Over time, HD affects the individual’s ability to reason, walk and speak

Symptoms Include:

  • Personality changes, mood swings and depression
  • Forgetfulness and impaired judgment
  • Unsteady gait and involuntary movements
  • Slurred speech and difficulty in swallowing

The Scope of HD
Approximately 30,000 Americans have HD, but the devastating effects of the disease touch many more. Within a family, multiple generations may have inherited the disease. Those at-risk may experience tremendous stress from the uncertainty and sense of responsibility. In the community, lack of knowledge about HD may keep friends and neighbors from offering social and emotional support to the family, fostering unnecessary isolation.

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) has a nationwide network that provides support and referrals for individuals with HD and their families.

Genetic Testing for HD
Individuals can be tested for the gene that causes HD. The test may be used to confirm a diagnosis of HD, but may also be used as a predictive test before symptoms arise. Some individuals at-risk for HD feel that it is important to know whether they carry the gene. Others ultimately choose not to be tested. While the actual procedure is simple, the decision to have the test is not. HDSA recommends that persons wishing to undergo presymptomatic testing for HD do so at one of our HDSA Centers of Excellence, or at a testing center with specific training in working with HD. A list of these testing centers is available from HDSA

HD affects both sexes and all races and ethnic groups around the world.
The Decision to test is highly personal and should never be rushed or forced.

Who is At-Risk?
Every child of a parent with HD has a  50/50 chance of inheriting the expanded gene that causes the disease. If the child has not inherited this expanded gene, he or she will never develop the disease and cannot pass it on to their children.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects people from discrimination by health insurers and employers on the basis of their DNA information. This federal law also enables individuals to take part in research studies without fear that their DNA information might be used against them by health insurers or in the workplace.

However, GINA protections do not extend to long term care, disability or life insurance policies. Anyone contemplating testing should first consider adding one or more of these types of policies before starting the testing process.

Advocacy
HDSA advocacy works to advance legislation and policy to improve the lives of HD families by raising awareness about HD in the U.S. Congress, by promoting legislation, policy and regulations that would help individuals in the HD community, by educating Federal agencies about HD, and by partnering and collaborating with national organizations that have common goals. Learn more at www.hdsa.org/advocacy.

Join us in the fight against HD
YOU can help HDSA in our efforts to end HD and provide resources for those who must face this disease daily. Both funds and volunteers are needed. Contact the HDSA National Office to find out how YOU can help.

HD does not skip generations; if one does not inherit the expanded gene, one cannot pass it on

An End To HD?
In 1993, researchers identified the gene that causes HD. Since then, research has moved quickly towards developing treatments and, ultimately, a cure. HDSA supports the goals of clinical and basic research at leading research facilities globally.

Clinical and observational trials are an important way you can help to sustain the momentum of HD research and move potential new therapies through the approval process. Visit the Research section of the HDSA website for more information and to find a trial in your area. There are opportunities for all HD family members – gene positive, at-risk, gene negative, and caregivers – to participate.

About HDSA
The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) is the largest 501(C)(3) non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of everyone affected by Huntington’s disease. Founded in 1968 by Marjorie Guthrie, wife of folk legend Woody Guthrie who lost his battle with HD, the Society works tirelessly to provide family services, education, advocacy and research to provide help for today, hope for tomorrow to the more than 30,000 people diagnosed with HD and the 250,000 at-risk in the United States.

Where to find help
You are not alone in facing HD. HDSA has developed a nationwide network that includes Chapters and Affiliates, HDSA Centers of Excellence, Support Groups, and Social Workers that are ready to assist you with referrals and resources in your area. To learn more, please visit www.hdsa.org or call 888-HDSA-506.

Research worldwide is working to unlock the mystery of HD and find a cure

Lupus Awareness Month

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years.

In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,” like the flu). Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues (“auto” means “self”) and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.

Lupus is also a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).

These are some additional facts about lupus that you should know:

  • Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.
  • Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, as described above.
  • Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive; in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
  • Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
  • Our research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus. The actual number may be higher; however, there have been no large-scale studies to show the actual number of people in the U.S. living with lupus.
  • More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported annually across the country.
  • It is believed that 5 million people throughout the world have a form of lupus.
  • Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44). However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, too.
  • Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.
  • People of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus.

What are the common symptoms of lupus?
Because lupus can affect so many different organs, a wide range of symptoms can occur. These symptoms may come and go, and different symptoms may appear at different times during the course of the disease.

The most common symptoms of lupus, which are the same for females and males, are:

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Headaches
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Anemia (low numbers of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or low total blood volume)
  • Swelling (edema) in feet, legs, hands, and/or around eyes
  • Pain in chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • Sun- or light-sensitivity (photosensitivity)
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Fingers turning white and/or blue when cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Mouth or nose ulcers

Many of these symptoms occur in other illnesses. In fact, lupus is sometimes called “the great imitator” because its symptoms are often like the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, thyroid problems, Lyme disease, and a number of heart, lung, muscle, and bone diseases.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome include:

  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain, usually in your arm, leg, hand or foot
  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Changes in skin temperature — at times your skin may be sweaty; at other times it may be cold
  • Changes in skin color, which can range from white and mottled to red or blue
  • Changes in skin texture, which may become tender, thin or shiny in the affected area
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Joint stiffness, swelling and damage
  • Muscle spasms, weakness and loss (atrophy)
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

Symptoms may change over time and vary from person to person. Most commonly, pain, swelling, redness, noticeable changes in temperature and hypersensitivity (particularly to cold and touch) occur first.

Over time, the affected limb can become cold and pale and undergo skin and nail changes as well as muscle spasms and tightening. Once these changes occur, the condition is often irreversible.

Complex regional pain syndrome occasionally may spread from its source to elsewhere in your body, such as the opposite limb. The pain may be worsened by emotional stress.

In some people, signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome go away on their own. In others, signs and symptoms may persist for months to years. Treatment is likely to be most effective when started early in the course of the illness.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Know the Warning Signs

Mental Health Awareness Month - Know the Warning Signs

Trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness.

Each illness has its own set of symptoms but some common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following.

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents)

Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Leigh Syndrome

What is Leigh syndrome?
Leigh syndrome is a severe neurological disorder that typically arises in the first year of life. This condition is characterized by progressive loss of mental and movement abilities (psychomotor regression) and typically results in death within a couple of years, usually due to respiratory failure. A small number of individuals develop symptoms in adulthood or have symptoms that worsen more slowly.

The first signs of Leigh syndrome seen in infancy are usually vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) that leads to eating problems. These problems often result in an inability to grow and gain weight at the expected rate (failure to thrive). Severe muscle and movement problems are common in Leigh syndrome. Affected individuals may develop weak muscle tone (hypotonia), involuntary muscle contractions (dystonia), and problems with movement and balance (ataxia). Loss of sensation and weakness in the limbs (peripheral neuropathy), common in people with Leigh syndrome, may also make movement difficult.

Several other symptoms may occur in people with Leigh syndrome. Many affected individuals develop weakness or paralysis of the muscles that move the eyes (ophthalmoparesis); rapid, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus); or degeneration of the nerves that carry information from the eyes to the brain (optic atrophy). Severe breathing problems are common in people with Leigh syndrome, and these problems can worsen until they cause acute respiratory failure. Some affected individuals develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart muscle that forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. In addition, a substance called lactate can build up in the body, and excessive amounts are often found in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, or urine of people with Leigh syndrome.

The signs and symptoms of Leigh syndrome are caused in part by patches of damaged tissue (lesions) that develop in the brains of people with this condition. A procedure called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reveals characteristic lesions in certain regions of the brain and the brainstem (the part of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord). These regions include the basal ganglia, which help control movement; the cerebellum, which controls the ability to balance and coordinates movement; and the brainstem, which controls functions such as swallowing, breathing, hearing, and seeing. The brain lesions are often accompanied by loss of the myelin coating around nerves (demyelination), which reduces the ability of the nerves to activate muscles used for movement or relay sensory information back to the brain.

How common is Leigh syndrome?
Leigh syndrome affects at least 1 in 40,000 newborns. The condition is more common in certain populations. For example, the condition occurs in approximately 1 in 2,000 newborns in the Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, Canada.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)

What is Duchenne muscular dystrophy?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. It is one of nine types of muscular dystrophy.

DMD is caused by an absence of dystrophin, a protein that helps keep muscle cells intact. Symptom onset is in early childhood, usually between ages 3 and 5. The disease primarily affects boys, but in rare cases it can affect girls.

What are the symptoms of DMD?
Muscle weakness can begin as early as age 3, first affecting the muscles of the hips, pelvic area, thighs and shoulders, and later the skeletal (voluntary) muscles in the arms, legs and trunk. The calves often are enlarged. By the early teens, the heart and respiratory muscles also are affected.

  • The heart
    Lack of dystrophin can weaken the muscle layer in the heart (myocardium), resulting in a condition called cardiomyopathy. Over time, sometimes as early as the teen years, the damage done by DMD to the heart can become life-threatening. The heart should be monitored closely, usually by a pediatric cardiologist.
  • Respiratory function
    Beginning at about 10 years of age, the diaphragm and other muscles that operate the lungs may weaken, making the lungs less effective at moving air in and out. Although the child may not complain of shortness of breath, problems that indicate poor respiratory function include headaches, mental dullness, difficulty concentrating or staying awake, and nightmares. Weakened respiratory muscles make it difficult to cough, leading to increased risk of serious respiratory infection. A simple cold can quickly progress to pneumonia.

Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness Month

The importance of recognizing Autism throughout the month of April is to help better educate and raise awareness to the public. Autism is a complex mental condition and developmental disability, characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with other people. Autism can be present from birth or form during early childhood, typically within the first three years. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability with no single known cause.

People with autism are also known as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) both terms are often used interchangeably. People with ASD have a set of symptoms unique to themselves; no two people are the same. ASD affects people in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. Although some symptoms are similar, such as challenges with social interaction, there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, donate for just want to learn more information about Autism you can visit the websites of some great organizations such as Autism Speaks, Autism Society and the National Autism Association.

Parkinson’s Awareness

Parkinson's Awareness

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that is chronic and progressive, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time.

As many as one million individuals in the US live with Parkinson’s disease. While approximately four percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before the age of 50, incidence increases with age.

Its major symptoms vary from person to person, but can include tremor, slowness of movements, limb stiffness, and difficulties with gait and balance. The cause of the disease is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage the symptoms.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a devastating and complex disorder. People with CFS have overwhelming fatigue and a host of other symptoms that are not improved by bed rest and that can get worse after physical activity or mental exertion. They often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before they became ill.

Besides severe fatigue, other symptoms include muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, insomnia, and post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours. In some cases, CFS can persist for years.

Researchers have not yet identified what causes CFS, and there are no tests to diagnose CFS. However, because many illnesses have fatigue as a symptom, doctors need to take care to rule out other conditions, which may be treatable.

While a single cause for CFS may yet be identified, another possibility is that CFS has multiple triggers. Some of the possible causes of CFS might be:

  • infections
  • immune dysfunction
  • abnormally low blood pressure that can cause fainting (neurally mediated hypotension)
  • nutritional deficiency
  • stress that activates the axis where the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands interact (the HPA axis)

Sypmtoms
The primary symptom of CFS is unexplained, severe fatigue lasting at least 6 months that is not improved by bed rest and that can get worse after physical activity or mental exertion. Individuals with CFS experience a fatigue so strong that their activity levels and stamina decline dramatically. However, fatigue is not the only symptom, and for some patients may not be the symptom that bothers them the most.

As stated in the 1994 case definition, the fatigue of CFS is accompanied by at least 4 of 8 characteristic symptoms lasting at least 6 months. These symptoms include:

  • post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours
  • un-refreshing sleep
  • significant impairment of short-term memory or concentration
  • muscle pain
  • pain in the joints without swelling or redness
  • headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
  • tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
  • a sore throat that is frequent or recurring

The symptoms listed above are the symptoms used to diagnose this illness. However, many CFS patients may experience other symptoms, including irritable bowel, depression or other psychological problems, chills and night sweats, visual disturbances, brain fog, difficulty maintaining upright position, dizziness, balance problems, fainting, and allergies or sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, medications, or noise.

Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness

Traumatic brain injury, often referred to as TBI, is most often an acute event similar to other injuries. That is where the similarity between traumatic brain injury and other injuries ends. One moment the person is normal and the next moment life has abruptly changed.

In most other aspects, a traumatic brain injury is very different. Since our brain defines who we are, the consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including our personality. A brain injury is different from a broken limb or punctured lung. An injury in these areas limit the use of a specific part of your body, but your personality and mental abilities remain unchanged. Most often, these body structures heal and regain their previous function.

Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries. Recovery is a functional recovery, based on mechanisms that remain uncertain. No two brain injuries are alike and the consequence of two similar injuries may be very different. Symptoms may appear right away or may not be present for days or weeks after the injury.

One of the consequences of brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred.

February is National AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month

AMD or Age-Related Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss affecting over 15 million adults over the age of 50.To understand how AMD affects your vision. Take your left hand and cover your left eye, now make a fist with your right hand. Take your right fist and place it directly in front of your right eye. The only thing you should see is images in your periphery or side vision. Now imagine that this is how you are to function within the world.

AMD
Age-Related Macular degeneration can develop so slowly that it’s not until the vision is getting severely bad that the patient will notice. Age-Related Macular Degeneration primarily destroys the sharp central vision controlled by a spot at the back of the retina called the macula. Sharp central vision is needed to read, drive, identify faces, watch television and perform daily tasks that require straight ahead vision.

Risk Factors
The exact cause of AMD is not known. But there are a number of risk factors that may play a role. Some you can help control, some you can’t.The same things that put you at risk for heart disease and stroke also put you at risk for AMD. These include:
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Obesity
• Smoking
Risks you cannot control include age, family history, gender and race.
Symptoms
AMD symptoms include blurriness, wavy lines, or a blind spot. You may also notice visual distortions such as:
• Straight lines or faces appearing wavy
• Doorways seeming crooked
• Objects appearing smaller or farther away
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. If you are diagnosed with wet AMD, it is important to see a Retina Specialist for the most appropriate care

Living with AMD
Make the Most of your Vision. Millions of people have macular degeneration and millions of them continue to do everything they always did. Because you never become blind with AMD, there is always sight available if you know how to use it.
The peripheral vision you have helps you to get around the house and outside. There are devices and techniques for everything from reading to cooking to watching sports on TV. You may have to stop driving at some point, but for everything else, there is a solution.
If you are losing sight, there are some simple things you can do on your own to improve your ability to see. Don’t become discouraged! You will probably need to try out multiple devices before you find one that works for you. These range from magnifiers that are held in the hand or suspended on a stand to devices that attach to your glasses or computers that help you to read.

Things you can do on your own:
• Improve the lighting in your home and office. This may not necessarily mean that you should increase the lighting or the brightness. Glare is often a problem for people with low vision. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for you. Special lights are available through many catalogs.
• Use high contrast for reading and writing. Write in large letters with a broad felt tip pen on white or light paper.
• Use large print books or try other media, like books on tape, disk or mp3. Most libraries have a section of these or you can find them online. There are also special libraries for visually impaired.
• Use a hand held magnifier. In the beginning, you may find some help at your local drug store by trying out the various small hand-held magnifiers available. If one of them helps your vision, you should certainly use it. Other magnifying devices may be more useful if your vision is very bad.

February Is American Heart Month: Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.

The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions. Communities, health professionals, and families can work together to create opportunities for people to make healthier choices

During the month of February, Americans see the human heart as the symbol of love. February is American Heart Month, a time to show yourself the love. Learn about your risks for heart disease and stroke and stay “heart healthy” for yourself and your loved ones.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure— is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year, including the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

Understanding the Burden of CVD
CVD does not affect all groups of people in the same way. Although the number of preventable deaths has declined in people aged 65 to 74 years, it has remained unchanged in people under age 65. Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable CVD.

Many CVD deaths could have been prevented through healthier habits, healthier living spaces, and better management of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Take It One Step at a Time

You can control a number of risk factors for CVD, including:

  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes

As you begin your journey to better heart health that can last a lifetime, keep these things in mind:

  • Try not to become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a healthier heart, and every healthy choice makes a difference!
  • Partner up. The journey is more fun—and often more successful—when you have company. Ask friends and family to join you.
  • Don’t get discouraged. You may not be able to take all of the steps at one time. Get a good night’s sleep—also important for a healthy heart—and do what you can tomorrow.
  • Reward yourself. Find fun things to do to decrease your stress. Round up some colleagues for a lunchtime walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with your family or friends.

Plan for Prevention
Try out these strategies for better heart health. You’ll be surprised how many of them can become lifelong habits!

Work with your health care team. Get a checkup at least once each year, even if you feel healthy. A doctor, nurse, or other health care professional can check for conditions that put you at risk for CVD, such as high blood pressure and diabetes—conditions that can go unnoticed for too long.

Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis. You can check your blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy, or at a doctor’s office.

Get your cholesterol checked. Your health care team should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years. Talk with your health care professional about this simple blood test.

Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid CVD and its complications. Limiting sodium in your diet can lower your blood pressure. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—adults should have at least five servings each day. Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for CVD. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, health care professionals often calculate a number called body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person’s body fat.

Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity activity for at least 150 minutes per week. Remember to incorporate exercise into your day in different ways: take the stairs instead of the elevator, or rake the yard instead of using the leaf blower. Exercising with friends and family can be a great way to stay healthy and have fun.

Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for CVD. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your health care team can suggest ways to help you quit.

Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day, and women to no more than one.

Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your health care team about treatment options.

Take your medicine. If you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or another condition, follow the instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you have side effects, talk with your health care team about your options.

Together, we all can prevent and manage heart disease, one step at a time.

January Is Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is a very misunderstood disease. Often, people don’t realize the severity or who is affected.

Key Facts About Glaucoma

  • Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness
    Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. And unfortunately approximately 10% of people with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience loss of vision.
  • There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma
    Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision.
  • Everyone is at risk for glaucoma
    Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.
  • There may be no symptoms to warn you
    With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Usually, no pain is associated with increased eye pressure. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. If you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

Some Statistics About Glaucoma

  • It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it.
  • In the U.S., more than 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness.
  • Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
  • After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans.
  • Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
  • African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians.
  • The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19% of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6% in Caucasians.
  • Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
  • Estimates put the total number of suspected cases of glaucoma at over 60 million worldwide.

 

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
    One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
    Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
    People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • Confusion with time or place
    People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
    For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
    People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
    A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
  • Decreased or poor judgment
    People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
    A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  • Changes in mood and personality
    The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

Epilepsy affects about 2 million people in the United States and is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Delayed recognition of these seizures and inadequate treatment increases the risk for additional seizures, disAbility, decreased health-related quality of life and, in rare instances, death.

Although epilepsy can occur at any age, the condition is more likely to begin among children less than 2 years of age and adults older than 65 years. As do many who live with other chronic disorders, those with epilepsy often face challenges related to managing epilepsy treatment, symptoms, disAbility, lifestyle limitations, emotional stress, and stigma.

CDC’s Managing Epilepsy Well (MEW) Network is composed of individuals interested in improving the care of people with epilepsy. MEW Network members, including representatives from U.S. universities, community-based organizations, and CDC are working together to develop and test self-management programs and tools that help people with epilepsy better manage their disorder and improve their quality of life.

MEW programs available to communities include WebEase, UPLIFT, and PEARLS. WebEase (Epilepsy Awareness Support and Education) is an Internet self-management program designed to improve medication adherence, stress management, and sleep. UPLIFT (Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favorable Thoughts) is an Internet and telephone program that combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness to treat depression in people with epilepsy. PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active Rewarding Lives) is a home-based, collaborative-care depression treatment program for adults with epilepsy.

Interventions that are currently being tested by MEW network researchers include a self-management program that combines self-regulation and social support for adults with refractory epilepsy; an electronic decision-support system for clinics to improve self-management communication and behavior; and a consumer-driven self-management program. New projects include a telephone intervention for rural dwelling adults with epilepsy and cognitive impairment, and self-management training for adults with epilepsy and co-existing serious mental illness.

November Is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

November Is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer’s and dementia basics

  • Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
  • Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s.
  • Alzheimer’s worsens over time. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
  • Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information.

Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age . Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can help. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving dramatically, and treatment options and sources of support can improve quality of life.

Mental Illness Awareness Week: October 5-11 2014

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since then, mental health advocates across the country have joined with others in their communities to sponsor activities, large or small, for public education about mental illness.

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy

What is limb-girdle muscular dystrophy?
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy is a term for a group of diseases that cause weakness and wasting of the muscles in the arms and legs. The muscles most affected are those closest to the body (proximal muscles), specifically the muscles of the shoulders, upper arms, pelvic area, and thighs.

The severity, age of onset, and features of limb-girdle muscle dystrophy vary among the many subtypes of this condition and may be inconsistent even within the same family. Signs and symptoms may first appear at any age and generally worsen with time, although in some cases they remain mild.

In the early stages of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, affected individuals may have an unusual walking gait, such as waddling or walking on the balls of their feet, and may also have difficulty running. They may need to use their arms to press themselves up from a squatting position because of their weak thigh muscles. As the condition progresses, people with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy may eventually require wheelchair assistance.

Muscle wasting may cause changes in posture or in the appearance of the shoulder, back, and arm. In particular, weak shoulder muscles tend to make the shoulder blades (scapulae) “stick out” from the back, a sign known as scapular winging. Affected individuals may also have an abnormally curved lower back (lordosis) or a spine that curves to the side (scoliosis). Some develop joint stiffness (contractures) that can restrict movement in their hips, knees, ankles, or elbows. Overgrowth (hypertrophy) of the calf muscles occurs in some people with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.

Weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) occurs in some forms of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Some affected individuals experience mild to severe breathing problems related to the weakness of muscles needed for breathing.

Intelligence is generally unaffected in limb-girdle muscular dystrophy; however, developmental delay and intellectual disability have been reported in rare forms of the disorder.

How common is limb-girdle muscular dystrophy?
It is difficult to determine the prevalence of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy because its features vary and overlap with those of other muscle disorders. Prevalence estimates range from 1 in 14,500 to 1 in 123,000 individuals.

Myasthenia Gravis

What is myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal (voluntary) muscles of the body. The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, literally means “grave muscle weakness.” With current therapies, however, most cases of myasthenia gravis are not as “grave” as the name implies. In fact, most individuals with myasthenia gravis have a normal life expectancy.

The hallmark of myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness that increases during periods of activity and improves after periods of rest. Certain muscles such as those that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, talking, and swallowing are often, but not always, involved in the disorder. The muscles that control breathing and neck and limb movements may also be affected.

What causes myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. It occurs when normal communication between the nerve and muscle is interrupted at the neuromuscular junction—the place where nerve cells connect with the muscles they control. Normally when impulses travel down the nerve, the nerve endings release a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine travels from the neuromuscular junction and binds to acetylcholine receptors which are activated and generate a muscle contraction.

In myasthenia gravis, antibodies block, alter, or destroy the receptors for acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, which prevents the muscle contraction from occurring. These antibodies are produced by the body’s own immune system. Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease because the immune system—which normally protects the body from foreign organisms—mistakenly attacks itself.

What is the role of the thymus gland in myasthenia gravis?
The thymus gland, which lies in the chest area beneath the breastbone, plays an important role in the development of the immune system in early life. Its cells form a part of the body’s normal immune system. The gland is somewhat large in infants, grows gradually until puberty, and then gets smaller and is replaced by fat with age. In adults with myasthenia gravis, the thymus gland remains large and is abnormal. It contains certain clusters of immune cells indicative of lymphoid hyperplasia—a condition usually found only in the spleen and lymph nodes during an active immune response. Some individuals with myasthenia gravis develop thymomas (tumors of the thymus gland). Thymomas are generally benign, but they can become malignant.

The relationship between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis is not yet fully understood. Scientists believe the thymus gland may give incorrect instructions to developing immune cells, ultimately resulting in autoimmunity and the production of the acetylcholine receptor antibodies, thereby setting the stage for the attack on neuromuscular transmission.

What are the symptoms of myasthenia gravis?
Although myasthenia gravis may affect any voluntary muscle, muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, and swallowing are most frequently affected. The onset of the disorder may be sudden and symptoms often are not immediately recognized as myasthenia gravis.

In most cases, the first noticeable symptom is weakness of the eye muscles. In others, difficulty in swallowing and slurred speech may be the first signs. The degree of muscle weakness involved in myasthenia gravis varies greatly among individuals, ranging from a localized form limited to eye muscles (ocular myasthenia), to a severe or generalized form in which many muscles—sometimes including those that control breathing—are affected. Symptoms, which vary in type and severity, may include a drooping of one or both eyelids (ptosis), blurred or double vision (diplopia) due to weakness of the muscles that control eye movements, unstable or waddling gait, a change in facial expression, difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath, impaired speech (dysarthria), and weakness is the arms, hands, fingers, legs, and neck.

Who gets myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis occurs in all ethnic groups and both genders. It most commonly affects young adult women (under 40) and older men (over 60), but it can occur at any age.

In neonatal myasthenia, the fetus may acquire immune proteins (antibodies) from a mother affected with myasthenia gravis. Generally, cases of neonatal myasthenia gravis are temporary and the child’s symptoms usually disappear within 2-3 months after birth. Other children develop myasthenia gravis indistinguishable from adults. Myasthenia gravis in juveniles is uncommon.

Myasthenia gravis is not directly inherited nor is it contagious. Occasionally, the disease may occur in more than one member of the same family.

Rarely, children may show signs of congenital myasthenia or congenital myasthenic syndrome. These are not autoimmune disorders, but are caused by defective genes that produce abnormal proteins instead of those which normally would produce acetylcholine, acetylcholinesterase (the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine), or the acetylcholine receptor and other proteins present along the muscle membrane.

How is myasthenia gravis diagnosed?
Because weakness is a common symptom of many other disorders, the diagnosis of myasthenia gravis is often missed or delayed (sometimes up to two years) in people who experience mild weakness or in those individuals whose weakness is restricted to only a few muscles.

The first steps of diagnosing myasthenia gravis include a review of the individual’s medical history, and physical and neurological examinations. The physician looks for impairment of eye movements or muscle weakness without any changes in the individual’s ability to feel things. If the doctor suspects myasthenia gravis, several tests are available to confirm the diagnosis.

A special blood test can detect the presence of immune molecules or acetylcholine receptor antibodies. Most patients with myasthenia gravis have abnormally elevated levels of these antibodies. Recently, a second antibody—called the anti-MuSK antibody—has been found in about 30 to 40 percent of individuals with myasthenia gravis who do not have acetylcholine receptor antibodies. This antibody can also be tested for in the blood. However, neither of these antibodies is present in some individuals with myasthenia gravis, most often in those with ocular myasthenia gravis.

The edrophonium test uses intravenous administration of edrophonium chloride to very briefly relieve weakness in people with myasthenia gravis. The drug blocks the degradation (breakdown) of acetylcholine and temporarily increases the levels of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction. Other methods to confirm the diagnosis include a version of nerve conduction study which tests for specific muscle “fatigue” by repetitive nerve stimulation. This test records weakening muscle responses when the nerves are repetitively stimulated by small pulses of electricity. Repetitive stimulation of a nerve during a nerve conduction study may demonstrate gradual decreases of the muscle action potential due to impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission.

Single fiber electromyography (EMG) can also detect impaired nerve-to-muscle transmission. EMG measures the electrical potential of muscle cells when single muscle fibers are stimulated by electrical impulses. Muscle fibers in myasthenia gravis, as well as other neuromuscular disorders, do not respond as well to repeated electrical stimulation compared to muscles from normal individuals.

Diagnostic imaging of the chest, using computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be used to identify the presence of a thymoma.

Pulmonary function testing, which measures breathing strength, helps to predict whether respiration may fail and lead to a myasthenic crisis.

How is myasthenia gravis treated?
Today, myasthenia gravis can generally be controlled. There are several therapies available to help reduce and improve muscle weakness. Medications used to treat the disorder include anticholinesterase agents such as neostigmine and pyridostigmine, which help improve neuromuscular transmission and increase muscle strength. Immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisone, azathioprine, cyclosporin, mycophenolate mofetil, and tacrolimus may also be used. These medications improve muscle strength by suppressing the production of abnormal antibodies. Their use must be carefully monitored by a physician because they may cause major side effects.

Thymectomy, the surgical removal of the thymus gland (which often is abnormal in individuals with myasthenia gravis), reduces symptoms in some individuals without thymoma and may cure some people, possibly by re-balancing the immune system. Thymectomy is recommended for individuals with thymoma. Other therapies used to treat myasthenia gravis include plasmapheresis, a procedure in which serum containing the abnormal antibodies is removed from the blood while cells are replaced, and high-dose intravenous immune globulin, which temporarily modifies the immune system by infusing antibodies from donated blood. These therapies may be used to help individuals during especially difficult periods of weakness. A neurologist will determine which treatment option is best for each individual depending on the severity of the weakness, which muscles are affected, and the individual’s age and other associated medical problems.

What are myasthenic crises?
A myasthenic crisis occurs when the muscles that control breathing weaken to the point that ventilation is inadequate, creating a medical emergency and requiring a respirator for assisted ventilation. In individuals whose respiratory muscles are weak, crises—which generally call for immediate medical attention—may be triggered by infection, fever, or an adverse reaction to medication.

What is the prognosis?
With treatment, most individuals with myasthenia can significantly improve their muscle weakness and lead normal or nearly normal lives. Some cases of myasthenia gravis may go into remission—either temporarily or permanently—and muscle weakness may disappear completely so that medications can be discontinued. Stable, long-lasting complete remissions are the goal of thymectomy and may occur in about 50 percent of individuals who undergo this procedure. In a few cases, the severe weakness of myasthenia gravis may cause respiratory failure, which requires immediate emergency medical care.

Fryns Syndrome

Fryns syndrome is an extremely rare inherited disorder characterized by multiple abnormalities that are present at birth (congenital). Characteristic symptoms and physical findings include protrusion of part of the stomach and/or small intestines into the chest cavity (diaphragmatic hernia), abnormalities of the head and face area (craniofacial region), and underdevelopment of the ends of the fingers and toes (distal digit hypoplasia). Additional symptoms include underdevelopment (hypoplasia) of the lungs, incomplete closure of the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), cardiac defects, and varying degrees of mental retardation. Fryns syndrome is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.

Symptoms
Fryns syndrome is associated with numerous abnormalities of varying severity such as protrusion of part of the stomach and/or small intestines into the chest cavity (diaphragmatic hernia), unusual facial features, and abnormalities of the fingers and toes. The number and severity of symptoms and physical findings will vary greatly from case to case.

Some symptoms such as diaphragmatic hernia, underdevelopment of the lungs, and cardiac defects may result in life-threatening complications during the newborn (neonatal) period.

Approximately 89 percent of all infants with Fryns syndrome have diaphragmatic hernia of varying degrees of severity. Lung hypoplasia and deformity of the lobes of the lungs also occurs in most cases. In some cases, affected infants may also have an abnormally small upper chest (thorax) and abnormal accumulation of milky fluid (chyle) in the thorax (chylothorax). Cases of Fryns syndrome in which affected infants do not have diaphragmatic hernia are considered less severe.

Infants with Fryns syndrome also have characteristic facial features that give the face a coarse appearance. These features include an abnormally small jaw (micrognathia) that may be displaced father back than normal (retrognathia); a broad, flat nasal bridge; an abnormally wide mouth (macrostomia); and incomplete closure of the roof of the mouth (cleft palate). In addition, affected infants may also have cloudy lenses of the eyes (corneal clouding); malformation (dysplasia) of the outer ears (pinnae) with underdeveloped lobes; an abnormal groove in the upper lip (cleft lip); a large, upturned nose; and a short, broad neck.

Another characteristic symptom of Fryns syndrome is underdevelopment of the tips of the fingers and toes (distal digit or acral hypoplasia). Affected infants may have underdeveloped or absent nails, abnormally short bones in the tips of the fingers and toes (terminal phalanges), and permanently flexed fingers (camptodactyly).

Affected infants may also have various abnormalities affecting the central nervous system. In approximately 50 percent of cases, Dandy-Walker malformation may be present. Dandy-Walker malformation is a rare malformation of the brain characterized by an abnormally enlarged space at the back of the brain (cystic 4th ventricle) that interferes with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the openings between the ventricle and other parts of the brain. In many cases, an abnormal cystic growth consisting of dilated lymph vessels beneath the skin in the neck area (cystic hygroma) may be present. Affected infants may also exhibit absence of the thick band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain (agenesis of the corpus callosum), accumulation of excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the skull (hydrocephalus), and absence of a structure of the brain (rhinecephalon) associated with the sense of smell (arrhinencephaly). For more information on these disorders, choose “Hydrocephalus” “Dandy Walker” and “Agenesis of Corpus Callosum” as your search terms in the Rare Disease Database.)

Approximately 55 percent of infants with Fryns syndrome exhibit congenital heart (cardiac) defects including atrial and ventricular septal defects (VSDs and ASDs). These septal defects are the most common structural heart defects. ASDs are characterized by an abnormal opening in the fibrous partition (septum) that separates the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart. VSDs are characterized by an abnormal opening in the septum that divides the heart’s two lower chambers (ventricles).

Skeletal abnormalities may be present in some infants with Fryns syndrome including abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine (scoliosis), extra ribs, and (osteochondrodysplasia).

Some infants with Fryns syndrome may have abnormalities of the genitourinary system. Females may exhibit malformation of the uterus with unusual “horn-shaped” branches (bicornuate uterus) and underdeveloped ovaries. Males may experience failure of one or both testes to descend into the scrotum (cryptorchidism) and placement of the urinary opening on the underside of the penis (hypospadias). Kidney (renal) abnormalities may also be present including cysts in the kidneys and malformation (dysplasia) of the kidneys.

Digestive abnormalities secondary to diaphragmatic hernia may also occur in some infants with Fryns syndrome including twisting (malrotation) of the intestines, protrusion of part of the intestines through an abnormal opening near the umbilical cord (omphalocele), esophageal atresia, and/or imperforate anus. Esophageal atresia is a condition in which the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) ends in a pouch instead of connecting to the stomach. Imperforate anus is a rare condition in which a thin covering (membrane) blocks the anal opening or the passage that connects the anus and the lowest part of the large intestine (rectum) fails to develop.

Causes
Fryns syndrome is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. Human traits, including the classic genetic diseases, are the product of the interaction of two genes, one received from the father and one from the mother.

In recessive disorders, the condition does not occur unless an individual inherits the same defective gene for the same trait from each parent. If an individual receives one normal gene and one gene for the disease, the person will be a carrier for the disease, but usually will not show symptoms. The risk of transmitting the disease to the children of a couple, both of whom are carriers for a recessive disorder, is 25 percent. Fifty percent of their children risk being carriers of the disease, but generally will not show symptoms of the disorder. Twenty-five percent of their children may receive both normal genes, one from each parent, and will be genetically normal (for that particular trait). The risk is the same for each pregnancy.

Parents of several individuals with the disorder have been closely related (consanguineous). If both parents carry the same disease gene, then there is a higher-than-normal risk that there children may inherit the two genes necessary for the development of the disorder.

Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease

What is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
Muscle-eye-brain disease (MEB) is an inherited condition causing a number of symptoms including muscle weakness, vision abnormalities, brain structure abnormalities, and severe mental disability.MEB causes congenital muscular dystrophy, a form of muscle weakness that is present from birth or develops shortly after birth. It causes an infant to feel floppy in all of his or her muscles, including those of the face. He or she may also exhibit involuntary muscle jerks or twitches.Eye problems associated with MEB include severe near-sightedness and glaucoma, among others.Another hallmark of MEB is a brain abnormality known as cobblestone lissencephaly (or type II lissencephaly). The brain develops a bumpy “cobblestone” appearance and lacks the normal folding structure. Other structural changes in the brain are also present. Children with MEB may have a buildup of fluid around the brain that can create a dangerous amount of pressure.The severity of symptoms can vary among people with MEB.

How Common is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
MEB is very rare, although its exact prevalence is unknown.

How is Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease Treated?
There is no successful treatment or cure for MEB. Medical specialists can help treat specific symptoms, such as using medication to control seizures, physical and occupational therapy to aid in movement, and special eye glasses to help make the most of the child’s vision.

What is the Prognosis for a Person With Muscle-Eye-Brain Disease?
The prognosis for a person with MEB varies depending on the severity of the symptoms, but is generally poor. Studies have shown people with MEB typically die between the ages of 6 and 16.

Resources
Muscular Dystrophy Association
A non-profit organization that supports research into and education about neuromuscular diseases. It is best known for its annual telethon led by entertainer Jerry Lewis.

  • 3300 East Sunrise Drive
    Tucson, AZ 85718
  • Phone: (800) 572-1717
  • Secondary Phone: (520) 529-2000
  • mda@mdausa.org

Lewy Body Dementia

 Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?

LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care

Friedreich’s Ataxia

Friedreich’s ataxia (also called FA or FRDA) is a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. It usually begins in childhood and leads to impaired muscle coordination (ataxia) that worsens over time. The disorder is named after Nicholaus Friedreich, a German doctor who first described the condition in the 1860s.

In Friedreich’s ataxia the spinal cord and peripheral nerves degenerate, becoming thinner. The cerebellum, part of the brain that coordinates balance and movement, also degenerates to a lesser extent. This damage results in awkward, unsteady movements and impaired sensory functions. The disorder also causes problems in the heart and spine, and some people with the condition develop diabetes. The disorder does not affect thinking and reasoning abilities (cognitive functions).

Friedreich’s ataxia is caused by a defect (mutation) in a gene labeled FXN. The disorder is recessive, meaning it occurs only in someone who inherits two defective copies of the gene, one from each parent. Although rare, Friedreich’s ataxia is the most common form of hereditary ataxia, affecting about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States. Both male and female children can inherit the disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms typically begin between the ages of 5 and 15 years, although they sometimes appear in adulthood and on rare occasions as late as age 75. The first symptom to appear is usually gait ataxia, or difficulty walking. The ataxia gradually worsens and slowly spreads to the arms and the trunk. There is often loss of sensation in the extremities, which may spread to other parts of the body. Other features include loss of tendon reflexes, especially in the knees and ankles. Most people with Friedreich’s ataxia develop scoliosis (a curving of the spine to one side), which often requires surgical intervention for treatment.

Dysarthria (slowness and slurring of speech) develops and can get progressively worse. Many individuals with later stages of Friedreich’s ataxia develop hearing and vision loss.

Other symptoms that may occur include chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. These symptoms are the result of various forms of heart disease that often accompany Friedreich’s ataxia, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart), myocardial fibrosis (formation of fiber-like material in the muscles of the heart), and cardiac failure. Heart rhythm abnormalities such as tachycardia (fast heart rate) and heart block (impaired conduction of cardiac impulses within the heart) are also common.

About 20 percent of people with Friedreich’s ataxia develop carbohydrate intolerance and 10 percent develop diabetes. Most individuals with Friedreich’s ataxia tire very easily and find that they require more rest and take a longer time to recover from common illnesses such as colds and flu.

The rate of progression varies from person to person. Generally, within 10 to 20 years after the appearance of the first symptoms, the person is confined to a wheelchair, and in later stages of the disease individuals may become completely incapacitated.

Friedreich’s ataxia can shorten life expectancy, and heart disease is the most common cause of death. However, some people with less severe features of Friedreich’s ataxia live into their sixties, seventies, or older.

How is Friedreich’s ataxia diagnosed?
A diagnosis of Friedreich’s ataxia requires a careful clinical examination, which includes a medical history and a thorough physical exam, in particular looking for balance difficulty, loss of proprioception (joint sensation), absence of reflexes, and signs of neurological problems. Genetic testing now provides a conclusive diagnosis. Other tests that may aid in the diagnosis or management of the disorder include:

  • electromyogram (EMG), which measures the electrical activity of muscle cells,
  • nerve conduction studies, which measure the speed with which nerves transmit impulses,
  • electrocardiogram (ECG), which gives a graphic presentation of the electrical activity or beat pattern of the heart,
  • echocardiogram, which records the position and motion of the heart muscle,
  • blood tests to check for elevated glucose levels and vitamin E levels, and
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, tests which provide brain and spinal cord images that are useful for ruling out other neurological conditions.

How is Friedreich’s ataxia inherited?
Friedreich’s ataxia is an autosomal recessive disease, meaning individuals only develop symptoms if they inherit two copies of the defective FXN gene, one from their father and one from their mother. A person who has only one abnormal copy of the gene is called a carrier. A carrier will not develop the disease but could pass the gene mutation on to his or her children. If both parents are carriers, their children will have a 1 in 4 chance of having the disease and a 1 in 2 chance of inheriting one abnormal gene that they, in turn, could pass on to their children. About one in 90 Americans of European ancestry carries an abnormal FXN gene.

In 1996, an international research team identified the Friedreich’s ataxia gene on chromosome 9. The FXN gene codes for production of a protein called “frataxin.” In the normal version of the gene, a sequence of DNA (labeled “GAA”) is repeated between 7 and 22 times. In the defective FXN gene, the repeat occurs over and over again—hundreds, even up to a thousand times.

This abnormal pattern, called a triplet repeat expansion, has been implicated as the cause of several dominantly inherited diseases, but Friedreich’s ataxia is the only known recessive genetic disorder caused by the problem. Almost all people with Friedreich’s ataxia have two copies of this mutant form of FXN, but it is not found in all cases of the disease. About two percent of affected individuals have other defects in the FXN gene that are responsible for causing the disease.

The triplet repeat expansion greatly disrupts the normal production of frataxin. Frataxin is found in the energy-producing parts of the cell called mitochondria. Research suggests that without a normal level of frataxin, certain cells in the body (especially peripheral nerve, spinal cord, brain and heart muscle cells) cannot effectively produce energy and have been hypothesized to have a buildup of toxic byproducts leading to what is called “oxidative stress.” It also may lead to increased levels of iron in the mitochondria. When the excess iron reacts with oxygen, free radicals can be produced. Although free radicals are essential molecules in the body’s metabolism, they can also destroy cells and harm the body. Research continues on this subject (see section on “What research is being done?”).

Can Friedreich’s ataxia be cured or treated?
As with many degenerative diseases of the nervous system, there is currently no cure or effective treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia. However, many of the symptoms and accompanying complications can be treated to help individuals maintain optimal functioning as long as possible. Doctors can prescribe treatments for diabetes, if present; some of the heart problems can be treated with medication as well. Orthopedic problems such as foot deformities and scoliosis can be corrected with braces or surgery. Physical therapy may prolong use of the arms and legs. Advances in understanding the genetics of Friedreich’s ataxia are leading to breakthroughs in treatment. Research has moved forward to the point where clinical trials of proposed treatments are presently occurring for Friedreich’s ataxia.

What services are useful to Friedreich’s ataxia patients and their families?
Genetic testing is essential for proper clinical diagnosis, and can aid in prenatal diagnosis and determining a person’s carrier status. Genetic counselors can help explain how Friedreich’s ataxia is inherited. Psychological counseling and support groups for people with genetic diseases may also help affected individuals and their families cope with the disease.

A primary care physician can screen people for complications such as heart disease, diabetes and scoliosis, and can refer individuals to specialists such as cardiologists, physical therapists, and speech therapists to help deal with some of the other associated problems.

Support and information for families is also available through a number of private organizations. These groups can offer ways to network and communicate with others affected by Friedreich’s ataxia. They can also provide access to patient registries, clinical trials information, and other useful resources.

What research is being done?
Within the Federal government the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has primary responsibility for sponsoring research on neurological disorders. As part of this mission, the NINDS conducts research on Friedreich’s ataxia and other forms of inherited ataxias at its facilities at the NIH and supports additional studies at medical centers throughout the United States. Several nonprofit organizations also provide substantial support research (see the section on “Where can I get more information?”).

Researchers are optimistic that they have begun to understand the causes of the disease, and work has begun to develop effective treatments and prevention strategies for Friedreich’s ataxia. Scientists have been able to create various models of the disease in yeast and mice which have facilitated understanding the cause of the disease and are now being used for drug discovery and the development of novel treatments.

Studies have revealed that frataxin is an important mitochondrial protein for proper function of several organs. Yet in people with the disease, the amount of frataxin in affected cells is severely reduced. It is believed that the loss of frataxin makes the nervous system, heart, and pancreas particularly susceptible to damage from free radicals (produced when the excess iron reacts with oxygen). Once certain cells in these tissues are destroyed by free radicals they cannot be replaced. Nerve and muscle cells also have metabolic needs that may make them particularly vulnerable to this damage. Free radicals have been implicated in other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Based upon this information, scientists and physicians have tried to reduce the levels of free radicals, also called oxidants, using treatment with “antioxidants.” Initial clinical studies in Europe suggested that antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, and idebenone may offer individuals some limited benefit. However, recent clinical trials in the United States and Europe have not revealed effectiveness of idebenone in people with Friedreich’s ataxia, but more powerful modified forms of this agent and other antioxidants are in trials at this time. There is also a clinical trial to examine the efficacy of selectively removing excess iron from the mitochondria.

Scientists also are exploring ways to increase frataxin levels through drug treatments, genetic engineering and protein delivery systems. Several compounds that are directed at increasing levels of frataxin may be brought to clinical trials in the near future. To check for current trials, visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Additional information is available from the groups listed in the following section.

Armed with what they currently know about frataxin and Friedreich’s ataxia, scientists are working to better define fraxatin’s role, clarify how defects in iron metabolism may be involved in the disease process, and explore new therapeutic approaches for therapy.

Triple X Syndrome

Triple X syndrome, also known as Trisomy X, 47,XXX aneuploidy, and Triplo-X, XXX Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that affects approximately 1 in every 1,000 females. A healthy female has two X chromosomes, one from her father and one from her mother. A female with triple-X syndrome has three X chromosomes.

According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), USA, 5 to 10 girls with triple X syndrome are born in the USA each day.

A female with triple-X syndrome does not inherit it from her parents. The syndrome generally results from a mistake in the formation of the father’s sperm cell or the mother’s egg. In some cases triple-X syndrome may be the result of something that went wrong in the development of the embryo.

A girl with triple X syndrome may either have no symptoms, just mild ones, or more severe ones with developmental delays. Developmental delays may include learning disabilities, delayed development of speech and language skills, as well as motor skills. There may be behavioral and emotional difficulties. Approximately 10% of affected females have seizures or kidney abnormalities. Among those who do have symptoms, they will vary widely from person-to-person.

Triple X syndrome treatment varies and depends on which symptoms are present, and how severe they are.

Unlike the majority of other chromosomal conditions, there is usually no clear visual difference between a female with triple X syndrome and other females. Some females with triple X syndrome may be taller than average. Most individuals with the syndrome have normal sexual development and can conceive children. Infertility is possible in some cases, but it is rare.

Most medical professionals do not regard the condition as a disability.

What are the signs and symptoms of triple X syndrome?
A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, drowsiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.

In all female cells, only one X chromosome is active at any time. Consequently, triple X syndrome generally does not cause unusual physical features or medical problems. In other words, in the majority of cases there are no signs or symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Delayed language skill development
  • Delayed motor skill development, resulting in poor coordination, awkwardness, and/or clumsiness.
  • In very rare cases, infertility
  • Some may have menstrual irregularities
  • Some may experience an early onset of menstruation

If physical features are present they will be very mild:

  • Tall stature
  • Microcephaly (small head)
  • Epicanthal folds – a vertical fold of skin that comes down across the inner angle of the eye.
  • Increased width between the eyes

22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome

Defining 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome
22q deletion syndrome has been called by many names, reflecting the constellation of clinical manifestations that have been identified over time. More recently, molecular genetic research has revealed that all of the syndromes listed below have one common link … there is a small amount of genetic material missing, termed a microdeletion, on the long arm (referred to as the q arm) of chromosome 22. Many now simply refer to all of these syndromes as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome:

  • DiGeorge Syndrome (DGS)
  • Velocardiofacial Syndrome (VCFS)
  • Conotruncal Anomaly Face Syndrome
  • Autosomal Dominant Opitz G/BBB Syndrome
  • Cayler Cardiofacial Syndrome
  • Shprintzen Syndrome

The 22q11.2 deletion syndrome occurs in approximately 1 out of every 4,000 live births. In most cases, the 22q deletion occurs de novo (the patient is the first in the family to have this deletion).  In approximately one in 10 families (10%) the deletion is present because one of the parents has the same deletion and passes it on to their baby. As a result, parents of a baby born with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome should have a blood test to determine their chances of having other children with the syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms
There are a variety of physical and behavioral disorders that have been linked to 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. The syndrome has the potential to impact every system in the body and can therefore lead to a wide-range of health issues.  The majority of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome patients have congenital heart defects, most often conotruncal abnormalities (tetralogy of Fallot, interrupted aortic arch, ventricular septal defect (VSD), vascular ring, and  truncus arteriosus) and palatal defects, including submucosal cleft palate and velopharyngeal dysfunction (VPD).   VPD (also referred to as velopharyngeal insufficiency, or VPI) is usually manifest as abnormal nasal air escape and hypernasal speech.  Some of the other common problems associated with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome include:

  • Feeding difficulties, including nasal regurgitation of food and fluids, vomiting or “spitting up”, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including constipation, and GERD
  • Immune system disorders, including recurrent ear infections (otitis) and sinusitis, respiratory infections, and autoimmune diseases
  • Kidney disorders – approximately 35 percent of these patients may have a missing or malformed kidney.
  • ENT problems, including laryngeal webs and external ear anomalies
  • Asymmetric crying facies
  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Orthopedic issues, such as scoliosis, club feet, cervical spine abnormalities, and extra fingers or toes
  • Inguinal, umbilical and diaphragmatic hernias
  • Growth problems, sometimes associated with growth hormone deficiency
  • Developmental delays, including both language and motor skills delays
  • Autism
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

5 secret symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

5 secret symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Here are 5 secret symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease every family caregiver and health care professional should know:

  • Loss of smell – Early in the course of the disease, many people with PD report a loss of olfaction or sense of smell. This happens slowly without the patient noticing and may occur several years before diagnosis. Difficulty detecting and discerning different odors is typically reported.
  • R.E.M sleep disturbances – Sleep problems are common for many people with Parkinson’s Disease. This can include difficulty falling and staying asleep (insomnia) as well as a more serious sleep problem known as R.E.M sleep behavior disorder. People with RBD experience vivid dreams and nightmares, often acting out their dreams causing self-inflicted injuries or hurting a partner by kicking, choking, or punching.  In later stages of the disease, patients report leg stiffness at nighttime, frequent urination, and (no surprise) daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
  • Urinary incontinence – Problems with the autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious or automatic bodily functions (heart rate, respiration, etc), are more pronounced for persons with advanced Parkinsonism. As a result, bladder control and urinary incontinence can be an issue for PD sufferers. Lightheadedness upon standing and dizziness often occur  due to poor blood pressure regulation. Trouble swallowing, abnormal sweating, and sexual dysfunction are common as well.
  • Mood and mental problems – Because PD is related to alterations in brain chemicals, depression affects nearly half of those with Parkinson’s Disease and worsens with the progressing course of the illness. Common symptoms include loss of interest in activities, and decreased pleasures; panic attacks and excessive worry are also common.
  • Pain – Over 40% of persons with Parkinson’s Disease report painful sensations across the body including, stabbing, burning, and tingling.  Pain often accompanies the motor symptoms and can be reported in different areas such as the face, abdomen, and joints

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic Brain Injury and Closed Head Injury commonly occur due to motor vehicle collisions. Injuries can range from a loss of consciousness of less than five minutes to being comatose for many months. Any level of injury can cause an increase in pre-injury bad driving behaviors or create new, unsafe driving issues. These issues can stem from problems with vision, accuracy and speed of eye movements, speed of response, attention, memory, problem solving, judgment and/or loss of physical skills. It can spare one skill and wipe another skill completely from memory. It commonly makes learning new information difficult and may keep a survivor from quickly learning from their mistakes. All of the above can result in unsafe driving encounters, unpredictable driving actions or repeat collisions for the survivor.If someone you know has been in an accident or has had a TBI, look for the following warning signs:

  • Inappropriate driving speeds
  • Is slow to identify and avoid potentially hazardous situations
  • Needs help or instruction from passengers
  • Doesn’t observe signs or signals or speed limits
  • Leaves out important road, traffic or warning information
  • Slow or poor decisions to traffic or road changes
  • Easily frustrated or confused
  • Pattern of getting lost, even in familiar areas
  • Collisions or near misses
  • Blames their driving mistakes on the behavior of other drivers

If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive.

  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis can affect individuals in varying ways including tingling, numbness, slurred speech, blurred or double vision, muscle weakness, poor coordination, unusual fatigue, muscle cramps, bowel and bladder problems and paralysis. Due to these symptoms, special equipment or accommodations may need to be made to aid a person in safely maintaining their mobility independence for as long as possible.

Physical Considerations: The following are considerations for selecting a vehicle:

Driving a sedan: The Individual must be able to do the following:

  • Open and close the Door
  • Transfer in and out of the vehicle
  • A wheelchair/scooter must be able to be stored and retrieved. Special equipment is available to aid with storage.

Driving a Van: Options may include a mini-van with a lowered floor and a ramp or a full size van with a lift. Specialized modifications allow a person to transfer to the driver’s seat or drive from a wheelchair. Technology may be able to compensate for the loss of strength or range of motion such as:

  • Reduced effort steering and/or brake systems to compensate for reduced strength.
  • Mechanical hand controls allow for operation of the gas and brake using upper extremities.
  • Servo brake/ accelerator systems compensate for reduced strength/range of motion of arms.
  • If spasticity is difficult to manage, it may lead to an inability to drive.

Visual Changes:

  • May be severe enough that driving is precluded or night driving is prohibited.
  • If double vision is intermittent and can be monitored independently, then driving may be limited to avoid driving during an exacerbation.
  • Sunglasses may help with glare sensitivity.
  • Compensate for loss of peripheral vision with special mirrors and head turning.
  • Learn order of traffic signals to aid with color vision impairment.

Cognitive Issues:

  • Need to regulate emotions and avoid driving when upset, angry or overly emotional.
  • May be limited to familiar routes if some loss of memory or problem solving but still enough judgment to drive.

Decreased Energy:

  • Energy conservation is vital.
  • May require assistance with wheelchair loading to save energy for driving.
  • Air conditioning aids with managing warm climates.

Medications:

  • Seek the physician’s input regarding side effects which may impair driving.
  • Monitor when medications are taken. Don’t drive when sleepy or just before or after medicating

If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive.

  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

 

Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida
Spina Bifida is a congenital defect in which part of one or more vertebrae (the bone structure that surrounds the spinal column), fail, to develop completely, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed. It can occur anywhere on the spine but is most common in the lower back. The severity of the condition depends on how much nerve tissue is exposed. Frequently special adaptations on a vehicle are necessary for independent driving. The person with Spina Bifida may also have impairments in the ~areas of vision, perception (how the brain interprets what the eyes see) or learning. Adaptive driving equipment is frequently used for physical problems. A spinner knob and hand controls can be used if a person is unable to use either foot for gas or brake. Specialized modifications can also allow a person to transfer to the driver’s seat or drive from the wheelchair in a van or minivan.

Common factors that can affect safe driving:

  • Limited range of motion and strength
  • Difficulty with coordinated movements
  • Visual impairments (poor acuity)
  • Trouble visually scanning or tracking quickly
  • Learning difficulties
  • Impaired judgment in complex situations
  • Slow processing and reaction time

A driver rehabilitation evaluation will examine the strengths and weaknesses of each individual as related to the driving task. The goal is independent, safe driving. No modifications or vehicle selection should be made until the person has completed a driver evaluation.

If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive.

  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

Pass on the Ribbon & Help Spread Rett Syndrome Awareness

Rett Syndrome Awareness Month

Rett syndrome is a rare, severe, “girls only” form of autism. It’s usually discovered in the first two years of life, and a child’s diagnosis with Rett syndrome can feel overwhelming. Although there’s no cure, early identification and treatment may help girls and families who are affected by Rett syndrome.

Who Gets Rett Syndrome?
Rett syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It’s rare — only about one in 10,000 to 15,000 girls will develop the condition.

In most cases of Rett syndrome, a child develops normally in early life. Between 6 and 18 months of age, though, changes in the normal patterns of mental and social development begin.


What Are the Symptoms of Rett Syndrome?
Although it’s not always detected, a slowing of head growth is one of the first events in Rett syndrome. Loss of muscle tone is also an initial symptom. Soon, the child loses any purposeful use of her hands. Instead, she habitually wrings or rubs her hands together.

Around 1 to 4 years of age, social and language skills deteriorate in a girl with Rett syndrome. She stops talking and develops extreme social anxiety and withdrawal or disinterest in other people.

Rett syndrome also causes problems with muscles and coordination. Walking becomes awkward as girls develop a jerky, stiff-legged gait. A girl with Rett syndrome may also have uncoordinated breathing and seizures.


What Causes Rett Syndrome?
Most children with Rett syndrome have a mutation in a particular gene on the X chromosome. Exactly what this gene does, or how its mutation leads to Rett syndrome, isn’t clear. It’s believed that the single gene may influence many other genes involved in development.

Although Rett syndrome seems to be genetic, the faulty gene is almost never inherited from the parents. Rather, it’s a chance mutation that happens in the girl’s own DNA. No Rett syndrome risk factors have been identified, other than being female. There is no known method for preventing Rett syndrome.

When boys develop the Rett syndrome mutation, they die shortly after birth. Because boys have only one X chromosome (instead of the two girls have), the disease is more serious, and quickly fatal.


How Is Rett Syndrome Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of Rett syndrome is based on a girl’s pattern of symptoms and behavior. The diagnosis can be made on these observations alone. Discussions between a doctor and a girl’s parents will help determine important details, such as when symptoms started.
Genetic testing can help confirm the diagnosis in 80% of girls with suspected Rett syndrome. It’s possible that genetic testing can help predict severity.


Treatments for Rett Syndrome
There are treatments available for Rett syndrome that focus on helping a girl live the best life she can with the condition. Physical therapy can help improve mobility; speech therapy may help somewhat with language problems; and occupational therapy helps girls perform daily activities — like bathing and dressing — independently.

Experts believe that therapy can help girls with Rett syndrome and their parents. Although a “normal” life may not be possible, some improvement can be expected with therapy. Participating in activities — including school — and improved social interaction are sometimes possible.

Medicines can treat some of the problems with movement in Rett syndrome. Medication can also help control seizures. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Rett syndrome.


What to Expect With Rett Syndrome
Many girls with Rett syndrome can be expected to live at least into middle age. Researchers are still following women with the disease, which was only widely recognized in the past 20 years.

Symptoms of Rett syndrome don’t usually improve over time. It is a lifelong condition. Often, there is a very slow worsening of symptoms, or symptoms remain stable. Girls and women with Rett syndrome will rarely be able to live independently.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Early Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Early Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis early signs, symptoms can be in such a mild form as not to be initially detectable.
MS early symptoms and signs appear at the onset of the disease, usually between the ages of 20 and 40. MS early symptoms and signs vary in duration and severity from one individual to the other and at different times in the same individual.
The most recurrent are:
  • walking difficulties
  • the sensation of having a weak or numb limb
  • cold or tingling feet
  • facial pain (Neuralgia)
  • blurred vision
Less common MS early symptoms include:
  • lack of coordination
  • cognitive difficulties
  • slurred speech
  • sudden onset of paralysis
As the disease progresses other symptoms can appear.
MS pain
MS pain is the type of pain that affects the central nervous system and pain syndromes are common amongst MS patients. Almost 50% of MS patients suffer s from chronic pain. There are several types of MS pain. The main types are:
  • Neuralgia, which is a stabbing pain in the face; it is usually treated with anticonvulsants.
  • Dysesthesias, which is a burning, aching body pain; it is usually treated with anticonvulsants and sometimes with antidepressants which act on the nervous central system.
  • Lhermitte sign, which is a brief, electric shock like sensation that runs down the spine and is caused by bending the neck forward or backward. It is controlled by means of a soft collar.
  • A chronic sensation of ‘pins and needles’, which is treated similarly to acute Dysesthesias.
  • Muscle spasm and cramps, which are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Back and skeleton pains, which are treated with heat, massage and physical therapy.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis can affect individuals in varying ways including tingling, numbness, slurred speech, blurred or double vision, muscle weakness, poor coordination, unusual fatigue, muscle cramps, bowel and bladder problems and paralysis. Due to these symptoms, special equipment or accommodations may need to be made to aid a person in safely maintaining their mobility independence for as long as possible.

Physical Considerations: The following are considerations for selecting a vehicle: 

Driving a sedan: The Individual must be able to do the following:

  • Open and close the Door
  • Transfer in and out of the vehicle
  • A wheelchair/scooter must be able to be stored and retrieved. Special equipment is available to aid with storage.

Driving a Van: Options may include a mini-van with a lowered floor and a ramp or a full size van with a lift. Specialized modifications allow a person to transfer to the driver’s seat or drive from a wheelchair. Technology may be able to compensate for the loss of strength or range of motion such as:

  • Reduced effort steering and/or brake systems to compensate for reduced strength.
  • Mechanical hand controls allow for operation of the gas and brake using upper extremities.
  • Servo brake/ accelerator systems compensate for reduced strength/range of motion of arms.
  • If spasticity is difficult to manage, it may lead to an inability to drive. 

Visual Changes: 

  • May be severe enough that driving is precluded or night driving is prohibited.
  • If double vision is intermittent and can be monitored independently, then driving may be limited to avoid driving during an exacerbation.
  • Sunglasses may help with glare sensitivity.
  • Compensate for loss of peripheral vision with special mirrors and head turning.
  • Learn order of traffic signals to aid with color vision impairment.

Cognitive Issues:

  • Need to regulate emotions and avoid driving when upset, angry or overly emotional.
  • May be limited to familiar routes if some loss of memory or problem solving but still enough judgment to drive.

Decreased Energy:

  • Energy conservation is vital.
  • May require assistance with wheelchair loading to save energy for driving.
  • Air conditioning aids with managing warm climates.

Medications:

  • Seek the physician’s input regarding side effects which may impair driving.
  • Monitor when medications are taken. Don’t drive when sleepy or just before or after medicating

If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive.

  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a congenital defect in which part of one or more vertebrae (the bone structure that surrounds the spinal column), fail, to develop completely, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed. It can occur anywhere on the spine but is most common in the lower back. The severity of the condition depends on how much nerve tissue is exposed. Frequently special adaptations on a vehicle are necessary for independent driving. The person with spina bifida may also have impairments in the ~areas of vision, perception (how the brain interprets what the eyes see) or learning. Adaptive driving equipment is frequently used for physical problems. A spinner knob and hand controls can be used if a person is unable to use either foot for gas or brake. Specialized modifications can also allow a person to transfer to the driver’s seat or drive from the wheelchair in a van or minivan. 


Common factors that can affect safe driving:

  • Limited range of motion and strength
  • Difficulty with coordinated movements
  • Visual impairments (poor acuity)
  • Trouble visually scanning or tracking quickly
  • Learning difficulties
  • Impaired judgment in complex situations
  • Slow processing and reaction time


A driver rehabilitation evaluation will examine the strengths and weaknesses of each individual as related to the driving task. The goal is independent, safe driving. No modifications or vehicle selection should be made until the person has completed a driver evaluation.

If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive. 

  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

Spinal Cord Injury

After a spinal cord injury has occurred, a person is no longer able to drive an automobile in the normal manner. However, there are several types of adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications that can allow an individual with a spinal cord injury to drive. Depending on the level of injury and functional ability, either a sedan or van may be an appropriate vehicle choice.
The following are considerations for selecting a vehicle:

Driving a sedan:  When considering the use of a sedan, the individual must be able to do the following:

  • Lock and Unlock the door
  • Open and close the door
  • Transfer to and from the wheelchair
  • Store and retrieve the wheelchair (either independently or with a wheelchair loading device)
  • Since characteristics and dimensions of vehicles vary, it is important that the individual performs these functions in the vehicle being considered prior to purchase. A driver rehabilitation specialist can provide recommendations for sedan selection.
Driving a van:  If an individual is unable to drive a sedan, there are several options available for driving a van. Specialized modifications can allow a person to transfer to the driver seat or to drive from the wheelchair.

There are several levels of driving control technology to compensate for the loss of strength and/or range of motion. Some of these include:

  • Reduced effort steering systems to compensate for reduced strength
  • Servo brake and accelerator control to compensate for reduced range of motion and strength.
  • Servo driving systems, allowing one hand operation of brake, accelerator and steering.
  • Adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications for wheelchair access are available for some full-size and mini vans; however, all vans are not suitable for modifications. We can assist in making the correct van choice and can provide a comprehensive evaluation to determine a persons ability to drive.
If you or those that drive with you notice any of the above warning signs and need a driving evaluation, give us a call at 508-697-6006 and we can, help you with with knowledge about medical conditions, and help with a comprehensive evaluation and determine your ability to drive.
  • Visual Perception
  • Functional Ability
  • Reaction Time
  • Behind-the-wheel evaluation

Raising Stroke Awareness for the Month of May

Help Raise Stroke Awareness

Many people are familiar with what it means to have a stroke – it is the fourth leading cause of death in America, and so has impacted the loved ones of many. When a blood clot breaks free and blocks an artery, or a blood vessel breaks, stopping blood flow to an area of the brain, brain cells in the affected area die. This results in damage to the brain, and is called a stroke, brain attack, cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or ischemic stroke. Sometimes a person will suffer something called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a “mini-stroke” that cuts off the supply of blood to the brain but does not cause lasting brain damage; although there is not permanent damage, there is a high risk of suffering a repeat TIA or a full stroke if not properly treated. Signs that a stroke is happening or has just occurred include sudden weakness or numbness of an arm, leg, or face – commonly just one side, sudden difficulty speaking, sudden difficulty walking or loss of balance, trouble seeing through one or both eyes, or sudden onset severe headache.

In support of Stroke Awareness Month, we invite you to learn more about stroke: how to minimize the risk of one occurring, and how to recognize one happening so that medical help can be called for as soon as possible.  Check in to our blog or Facebook throughout the month of May for more information on stroke and how to participate in awareness campaigns in your area.

May Is ALS Awareness Month : Speak Up Now To Give Hope

May is ALS Awareness month : speak up Now to Give Hope

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is 100% fatal and has few treatments to improve the quality of life. We are committed to helping more people understand the impact that this devastating disease has on individuals and families nationwide. During ALS Awareness Month, we ask that you join us: speak up now to give hope.

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May us ALS Awareness month: Speak up Now to Give Hope

What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. “A” means no or negative. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment–”No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (become smaller). Limbs begin to look “thinner” as muscle tissue atrophies.

Forms of ALS
Three classifications of ALS have been described:

  • Sporadic: The most common form of ALS in the United States – 90 to 95% of all cases.
  • Familial: Occurring more than once in a family lineage (genetic dominant inheritance) accounts for a very small number of cases in the United States – 5 to 10% of all cases.
  • Guamanian: An extremely high incidence of ALS was observed in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950’s.

The most common form of ALS in the United States is “sporadic” ALS. It may affect anyone, anywhere. “Familial” ALS (FALS) means the disease is inherited. Only about 5 to 10% of all ALS patients appear to have genetic or inherited form of ALS. In those families, there is a 50% chance each offspring will inherit the gene mutation and may develop the disease.

Who Gets ALS?
ALS is a disorder that affects the function of nerves and muscles. Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. (That’s 15 new cases a day.) It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. According to the ALS CARE Database, 60% of the people with ALS in the Database are men and 93% of patients in the Database are Caucasian.

Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. However, cases of the disease do occur in persons in their twenties and thirties. Generally though, ALS occurs in greater percentages as men and women grow older. ALS is 20% more common in men than in women. However with increasing age, the incidence of ALS is more equal between men and women.

There are several research studies – past and present – investigating possible risk factors that may be associated with ALS.  More work is needed to conclusively determine what genetics and/or environment factors contribute to developing ALS. It is known, however, that military veterans, particularly those deployed during the Gulf War, are approximately twice as likely to develop ALS.
Half of all people affected with ALS live at least three or more years after diagnosis. Twenty percent live five years or more; up to ten percent will live more than ten years.

There is some evidence that people with ALS are living longer, at least partially due to clinical management interventions, riluzole and possibly other compounds and drugs under investigation.

Diagnosing ALS
ALS is a very difficult disease to diagnose. To date, there is no one test or procedure to ultimately establish the diagnosis of ALS. It is through a clinical examination and series of diagnostic tests, often ruling out other diseases that mimic ALS, that a diagnosis can be established. A comprehensive diagnostic workup includes most, if not all, of the following procedures:

  • electrodiagnostic tests including electomyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
  • blood and urine studies including high resolution serum protein electrophoresis, thyroid and parathyroid hormone levels and 24-hour urine collection for heavy metals
  • spinal tap
  • x-rays, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • myelogram of cervical spine
  • muscle and/or nerve biopsy
  • thorough neurological examination

For more information on the importance of a second opinion, click here.

These tests are done at the discretion of the physician, usually based on the results of other diagnostic tests and the physical examination. There are several diseases that have some of the same symptoms as ALS and most of these conditions are treatable. It is for this reason that The ALS Association recommends that a person diagnosed with ALS seek a second opinion from an ALS “expert” – someone who diagnoses and treats many ALS patients and has training in this medial specialty. The ALS Association maintains a list of recognized experts in the field of ALS. See ALS Association Certified Centers of ExcellenceSM, ALS Clinics and contact your local ALS Association Chapter or the National Office.

Symptoms
Initial Symptoms of the Disease
At the onset of ALS the symptoms may be so slight that they are frequently overlooked. With regard to the appearance of symptoms and the progression of the illness, the course of the disease may include the following:

  • muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or the muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing
  • twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
  • impairment of the use of the arms and legs
  • “thick speech” and difficulty in projecting the voice
  • in more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing

The initial symptoms of ALS can be quite varied in different people. One person may experience tripping over carpet edges, another person may have trouble lifting and a third person’s early symptom may be slurred speech. The rate at which ALS progresses can be quite variable from one person to another. Although the mean survival time with ALS is three to five years, many people live five, ten or more years. In a small number of people, ALS is known to remit or halt its progression, though there is no scientific understanding as to how and why this happens. Symptoms can begin in the muscles of speech, swallowing or in the hands, arms, legs or feet. Not all people with ALS experience the same symptoms or the same sequences or patterns of progression. But, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced.

Muscle weakness is a hallmark initial sign in ALS, occurring in approximately 60% of patients. Early symptoms vary with each individual, but usually include tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, slurred speech, muscle cramps and twitches and/or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying.

The hands and feet may be affected first, causing difficulty in lifting, walking or using the hands for the activities of daily living such as dressing, washing and buttoning clothes.

As the weakening and paralysis continue to spread to the muscles of the trunk of the body the disease, eventually affects speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing. When the breathing muscles become affected, ultimately, the patient will need permanent ventilatory support in order to survive.

Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell are not affected. For many people, muscles of the eyes and bladder are generally not affected.

Facts You Should Know

  • ALS is not contagious.
  • It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more.  More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
  • About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
  • ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • ALS can strike anyone.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease.  It is important to be knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and other programs for which your may be eligible, including SSA, Medicare, Medical and Veteran Affairs benefits.
  • Riluzole, the first treatment to alter the course of ALS, was approved by the FDA in late 1995. This antiglutamate drug was shown scientifically to prolong the life of persons with ALS by at least a few months. More recent studies suggest Riluzole slows the progress of ALS, allowing the patient more time in the higher functioning states when their function is less affected by ALS. Click here for more information on the drug. Many private health plans cover the cost of Riluzole. Further information on Riluzole coverage through Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit can be found in the Advocacy pages of this website.

Reports from three separate patient databases described long range experience with Riluzole. All three reports suggest a trend of increasing survival with Riluzole over time. More studies that are double blind and controlled are needed to confirm these database observations. The trend appears to indicate that longer periods of time than those used in the Riluzole clinical trials may be needed to see the long-term survival advantage of the drug. An interesting observation was that despite the fact that the Irish government provides Riluzole free of charge to people in Ireland with ALS, only two-thirds of the patients registered in the Ireland national ALS database reported taking Riluzole.