Stroke Awareness Month: May 2021

As I look out the window of the room in my home in which I have been working for over a year, it is hard to believe how green the trees have become!  But Spring is truly here, and if it’s May, it must be Stroke Awareness Month.  Over the past decade, NIH and its government, nonprofit, and hospital partners and scientists and health care providers around the country have worked to make people everywhere aware of the risks and dangers of stroke; help people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol; design and test better drugs and devices to treat heart rhythm disturbances and prevent the blood clots they cause; and implement methods for dissolving or pulling out clots in blood vessels in the brain.  Accordingly, age-adjusted stroke rates and death rates from stroke have decreased over the past decade in both men and women and for all races and ethnicities.  But lest we think we don’t have to worry about stroke anymore, we still have lots of work to do!

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NINDS Recognizes Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

This month is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month and, even as a child neurologist, I find myself thinking about how much we have learned and how much we have yet to learn about this common neurodegenerative condition.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder that primarily affects people over the age of 65. However, an estimated four percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed with “early onset Parkinson’s disease,” meaning that they were diagnosed before age 50. Clinically, Parkinson’s disease is characterized by slowness of movement (bradykinesia), rhythmic shaking of the limbs and head (tremor), inflexibility of the limbs (rigidity), and loss of the balancing mechanism (postural control).

In addition to these classic “motor” or movement-related symptoms, people with Parkinson’s also experience a range of symptoms affecting daily activities, including fatigue, pain, changes in mood and thinking, difficulties sleeping, issues with eating and swallowing, and bladder and bowel problems. Under the microscope, the brains of patients who had Parkinson’s disease all show abnormal clumps of proteins, called Lewy bodies, and the loss of nerve cells that make the chemical dopamine.

What has become clear is that Parkinson’s represents a complex spectrum with shared characteristics, including a classic trio of motor symptoms and similar end-term brain changes, but also with a range of physical manifestations such that the experience of each person with Parkinson’s is unique.

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