3 posts from August, 2008

More Than Meets the Eye: Non-motor Symptoms in Young-onset Parkinson’s Disease

Posted August 20th, 2008 by

Most people think of Parkinson’s disease (PD) as a condition of aging, and most of the time they’re right. Looking at the population as a whole, about 1-2% of people over the age of 65 have PD, and it’s usually a condition that is most severe in patients in their 70’s and 80’s. However, about 10% of patients buck this trend and experience their first symptoms before the age of 40; these patients are known as Young-Onset PD or YOPD for short. The R&D team here at PatientsLikeMe recently carried out a research study examining an aspect of PD that has only recently gained much attention, “non-motor symptoms.” When a clinician diagnoses PD, they are usually looking for a triad of cardinal features, specifically tremor, slowness, and stiffness. However, in the past 5-10 years it has been increasingly clear that patients with PD also experience a number of non-motor symptoms, ranging from dizziness to constipation, from a loss of sense of smell to hallucinations, and from apathy to urinary problems.

Several of our members had mentioned in forum postings that they were finding non-motor symptoms, such as cognitive confusion and fatigue, to be a particular burden, so we decided to carry out a research study using the well-validated Non-Motor Symptoms Questionnaire (NMS-Quest) developed by Professor Ray Chaudhuri and colleagues. We sent the survey out to all of our PD patients earlier this year. In total, we got responses from 307 patients, including 260 “classic” PD patients and 46 with YOPD. The results show a higher number of non motor symptoms among YOPD patients (14/30) than PD patients (11/30). That’s an average of three more non-motor symptoms for YOPD patients than their older counterparts. More specifically, YOPD patients (at the individual level) report apathy, concentration problems, falls, pains, and sadness more often than older onset PD patients.

You can listen to a short presentation, or read our full report for a more detailed analysis of our methodology and findings, but there were several points I found particularly interesting.


  • It’s unusual enough to have YOPD, which can be an isolating and confusing experience. For YOPD patients to experience even more non-motor symptoms than patients with more typical PD seems alarming, and requires urgent attention from clinicians, researchers, and patient advocacy groups to ensure their needs are being met.
  • This sentiment is echoed in some of the patient interviews we conducted with members earlier this year. Click here to view the first in a series of interviews to be posted on our YouTube page, and hear for yourself what YOPD patients had to say when we asked what people should know about PD. (More videos to come on our YouTube and Facebook pages, so stay tuned!)
  • YOPD patients are more likely to still be working, to be supporting families, and to be looking after young children or parents. Therefore, even minor changes in cognitive function or mood could have a substantial impact on their ability to function.
  • Because YOPD patients are relatively rare and spread out, researchers aren’t often able to gather sufficiently large samples to study them in detail. A research platform like PatientsLikeMe provides an ideal opportunity to collect high quality data in an efficient way.

PatientsLikeMe member pwicks

PatientsLikeMe at the Young-Onset Parkinson’s Network Conference

Posted August 12th, 2008 by

PatientsLikeMe was a proud sponsor of the National Parkinson’s Foundation Young-Onset Parkinson’s Network (YOPN) Conference in Atlanta, GA last week.

Moakes and Pwicks at YOPD conference

The event, coordinated by and for people living with Young-Onset Parkinson Disease (YOPD), was a huge success. Paul Wicks and I (Maureen Oakes) enjoyed working at the booth, meeting many of our current members and spotting PatientsLikeMe t-shirts in the crowd. Paul was a presenter at the conference, and his session “Taking Control of Your Parkinson’s by Sharing Online” was well attended and received by current and future PatientsLikeMe members. One of the themes that came up repeatedly at the conference is that living with YOPD, like any other life-changing illness, can be a very isolating experience. The YOPN Conference presented its attendees the opportunity to spend the weekend learning more about their condition, expanding their knowledge about the latest treatments and choices, and most importantly, meeting other patients like them.

As a community manager at PatientsLikeMe, much of my job is watching. I read the forum to observe what people are discussing, I look for questions and ideas on how we can improve different areas of the site, and watch as members learn and relationships grow. But, one of my favorite things to watch is when our members meet each other in real life. As they did at the Unity Walk, many PatientsLikeMe Parkinson’s members wore “badges” with their usernames and pictures to help identify each other as they met their online friends face-to-face for the first time. These relationships blossom very quickly because they are rooted by their shared experiences, and that is a wonderful thing to watch.

PatientsLikeMe member moakes

Tysabri and the 2 New Reported Cases of PML

Posted August 1st, 2008 by

tysabrilogo.gifMembers of our Multiple Sclerosis (MS) community have been discussing this story in the Boston Globe which reports severe adverse events experienced by two European MS patients on the drug Tysabri (Natalizumab). Tysabri is a monoclonal antibody which seems to have a potent effect on MS; the original trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that compared to placebo, MS patients on Tysabri had a 42% lower risk of sustained disability progression over two years, and a 68% reduction in the risk of clinical relapse at one year. Compared to the small and imperceptible benefits from other drugs available at the time, this provided real hope for thousands of patients.

Tysabri was voluntarily withdrawn in 2005, however, after a small number of cases of a rare condition called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). This extremely rare but usually fatal adverse event seemed particularly prone to happen in patients also taking immunosuppressive drugs; part of the standard toolkit in treating MS. It was reintroduced in 2006 but only within a strict protocol to minimize the risk of adverse events.


Since the early days of our MS community, Tysabri has been a hot topic of conversation with several patients reporting that their frequency of relapses had dropped substantially and even that some of their symptoms such as bladder dysfunction had improved too. In total, PatientsLikeMe has 297 patients taking Tysabri, although 35 patients stopped taking it, with the most common reasons being doctor’s advice, side effects, or a perceived lack of efficacy. By recording symptoms on their profile pages, our users inform each other about their experiences with Tysabri. Each patient, then is better informed to make their own decision; and by sharing their outcomes they help the whole community to make an informed choice, too.

The one question on the minds of our MS users is “now what”? A disease like MS is hard to understand for those that don’t have it, it’s an “invisible illness” characterized by fatigue, cognitive problems, and pain. When you have symptoms like this impacting upon your quality of life, how can you make the right choice? Given that nothing in our lives is risk free, what is an acceptable balance of risk between relief from suffering for several years and a small risk of death from an adverse event?

Faced with worsening symptoms, empowered patients educate themselves about the potential risks of any treatment; and along with their doctors make the choice that’s right for them. One of our MS members puts it this way:

I understand those who want the PML issue to be understood because it is a very scary thing, but I said to myself that I’d rather fight back with the strongest drug now instead of waiting for that flare up that one day is irreversible.

That is a person who is trying to make the best health care decision based on all of the available information. The choice is yours and we understand it’s not an easy one to make.

PatientsLikeMe member pwicks