The FDA has recently approved the dementia fighting drug Exelon in a patch form. The new formulation, Transdermal Exelon, offers patients a new and unique way to get medication which can help with improving cognitive function and slow down memory loss in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The new patch is also FDA approved for patients with Parkinson associated dementia. This is the second patch approved for use in treatment of Parkinson disease. The other is Neupro, a transdermal patch containing the dopamine agonist rotigotine.

Transdermal Exelon joins the group of other medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, such as Aricept, Razadyne and Namenda. The patch for of Exelon offers the advantage of not having to take a pill twice daily, continuous medication administration through the skin and less stomach upset. Another advantage is that the patch demonstrated beneficial effects equivalent to the maximum oral dosing of this medication. The problem with the oral medication was intolerance due to nausea and vomiting. While much less, there were some reports of stomach upset with Transdermal Exelon. Another side effect, common to most patch medications, was that of skin irritation. The patch needs to be changed daily and administration sites should be rotated, not using the same site more than once every two weeks. While Exelon, Aricept and Razadyne are in the same chemical family of memory disorder drugs – the acetylcholine esterase inhibitors – Namenda is in a class by itself. For this reason, it can be used in combination with any of the other three. Studies have shown that there is a beneficial effect in improving cognitive function with combining these two different types of medication. Studies are looking into the use of these medications for patients with mild cognitive impairment. These are individuals who have some memory loss but do not fit the criteria to be diagnosed with dementia. Depression, manifesting as dementia, also needs to be excluded.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic debilitating illness that slowly robs patients of their memory, cognitive abilities and ability to function independently. They become more and more dependent on others to provide care and transportation for them. Even dressing, eating and bathing become impossible for them to perform without assistance. With the availability of these new memory drugs, the progression of the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson disease associated dementia can be slowed down. Some patients actually show functional improvement. Unfortunately, none of these medications halt the progression of the disease. Eventually their quality of life deteriorates and others will need to assist with care giving. The benefit of these medications is that they significantly slow the progression of the disease, possibly keeping loved ones at home, instead of a nursing home, for anywhere from 6-18 months. If you have a loved one with memory loss, early diagnosis and treatment is important. Studies are ongoing to show that with earlier treatment, patients do better over extended periods of time. Bring your family member with memory loss to a neurologist for a complete evaluation.

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Fibromyalgia is a chronic muscle pain disorder that has no underlying identifiable cause. Sufferers have muscle pain, multiple areas of tenderness and fatigue. It is a poorly understood disorder, with many physicians not even acknowledging that it is a real illness. There is , however ample evidence that fibromyalgia is a real condition as it has been estimated that as many as 6 million Americans suffer from this affliction annually. Patients typically see several physicians and become frustrated when all their testing comes back normal. Other accompanying symptoms may include poor sleep hygiene, headache, mental clouding (fibromyalgia fog) and depression. Although this conditions rarely clears, suffers can be treated successfully with a combination of medications and regular exercise.

The FDA has recently approved Lyrica as the first drug specifically for fibromyalgia treatment. Lyrica (pregabalin) was originally approved for treatment of seizures and painful diabetic neuropathy. Based on two large, double-blind studies with 1,800 patients enrolled, the FDA approved labeling for Lyrica to be used in the non-narcotic control of fibromyalgia pain. The exact mechanism by which Lyrica controls the pain of fibromyalgia is not well understood. I have used this drug extensively in my practice to help individuals with fibromyalgia, who have failed other therapies. With FDA approval, more insurance companies will be compelled to cover this otherwise costly medication.

Other medications have been used to help patients with fibromyalgia. Medications in the tricyclic antidepressant family such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline and trazodone have been used with varying degrees of success. Some anti-inflammatory medication may be helpful as well. In combination with medications, it is important for patients with fibromyalgia to get some type of regular exercise that involves muscle resistance. The combination of medications and exercise provide the best hope for controlling the symptoms of fibromyalgia as there is no definitive cure. Mayo Clinic published an excellent summary of fibromyalgia. If you feel that you have this condition, find a neurologist or rheumatologist in your area that has knowledge in treating this condition.

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