High Rate of Parkinson’s Disease Among Welders

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Study Suggests Deep Brain Stimulation May Be Useful in Treating Advanced Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

KIEL, GERMANY — September 15, 2006 — A new study suggests that for patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease, deep brain stimulation may be more effective in controlling their disorder than medication alone (N Engl J Med.,2006 Aug 31; 355(9): 896–908). In deep brain stimulation, surgeons implant a battery–operated device that can impart electrical stimulation to a specified area of the brain. In this case, the selected target was the subthalamic nucleus, an area involved in movement.

Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which brain cells in the midbrain area become damaged and unable to produce dopamine, a chemical important in transmitting signals between parts of the brain. Dopamine loss is responsible for the movement problems caused by Parkinson’s disease. These include slow movements, body stiffness, poor balance, and shaking or tremors, especially when at rest. The main treatment for Parkinson’s disease is the drug levodopa or L–dopa, which allows dopamine production and relieves some of the problems of body rigidity and slowed movement. However, after patients take L–dopa for several years, the drug becomes less effective. They may experience involuntary movements called dyskinesias and “on–off” periods when L–dopa suddenly stops or starts working.

The purpose of the deep brain stimulation study was to find a way to help patients who were having declining responses to L–dopa and other Parkinson’s drug combinations. Study participants were under the age of 75 and were first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at least five years before the study began. The researchers chose 156 patients with severe Parkinson’s symptoms and divided them into two groups—one group received medication only and the other underwent deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus. After six months, the group receiving deep brain stimulation had less bodily discomfort and the most improvement in mobility, activities of daily living, and emotional well–being. These factors were measured by using standard Parkinson’s disease diagnosis techniques, including the Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire (PDQ–39) and the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. Specifically, the periods during which patients were mobile and did not experience dyskinesias was increased by 4.4 hours. Periods of “frozen” movement or immobility decreased by 4.2 hours.

Despite these promising results, there were more serious side effects among patients who received the implant than among those taking medications alone (13% or 10 patients versus 4% or 3 patients). One patient who received deep brain stimulation died of a brain hemorrhage. Another developed an infection at the site of the implant.

The study authors concluded: “In carefully selected patients, neurostimulation of the subthalamic nucleus is a powerful treatment that alleviates the burden of advanced Parkinson’s disease. The prospect of an improved quality of life in patients treated with neurostimulation has to be weighed against the risk of complications related to surgery.”

The study was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The medical device manufacturer, Medtronic, provided the electrical stimulation devices. Twenty–one of the study’s 38 authors had financial ties to Medtronic.

Welding and Parkinson’s Disease

If you or a family member is a welder, you will want to know as much as possible about Parkinson’s disease, its symptoms and any new breakthroughs in its treatment. This is because welders develop Parkinson’s disease at a higher rate than other people do. They also may contract the disease at a younger age compared with other Parkinson’s disease patients.

These higher rates of Parkinson’s disease may be due to exposure to manganese–containing fumes produced by certain welding rods during the welding process. Manganese has been linked to nervous disorders and movement problems, including tremors and immobility.

Besides having an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease, many welders develop a condition called manganese poisoning or “manganism.” Patients with manganism exhibit a fixed gaze, tremors, a rigid body, and slowed movement, all symptoms that are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease.

Your Legal Case

Brayton Purcell believes that welding rod manufacturers made a defective product and did not properly warn workers about the dangers of welding rods. We are currently reviewing cases of welders who have developed Parkinson’s disease, manganism or Parkinson–like symptoms (Parkinsonism). If you are a welder and have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, please contact us. We will evaluate your case free of charge and advise you of your legal rights and options. We have been representing workers in medical/legal cases for over 20 years and are proud of our record of excellent service and legal advocacy.