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People living with Parkinson’s disease will soon have a new treatment option.  

The FDA has now approved a medication that reduces “off” periods, episodes when patients’ first-line medication fails to control Parkinson’s symptoms.  The new treatment is a welcome step toward helping Parkinson’s patients keep symptoms like tremor, rigidity and anxiety in check. 

Parkinson’s disease, which affects 1 million Americans, is a chronic, debilitating neurological disease.  It’s known for causing tremors, stiffness, slowness and balance problems.  In Parkinson’s patients, brain cells that make the naturally occurring chemical dopamine, which coordinates movement, stop working.  

Most Parkinson’s patients use a medication called levodopa, which converts into dopamine in the brain.  Levodopa remains the “gold standard” for Parkinson’s treatment, but it has one major drawback: It becomes less effective over time.  The medication wears off before it’s time to take a new dose, triggering “off” periods.

Patients and their doctors have a number of options to combat “off” periods, from dietary and medication adjustments to deep brain stimulation.  Come September, they will have a new treatment to try.  

The medicine, apomorphine hydrochloride, is a film that dissolves under the tongue.  In clinical studies, patients who used it showed significant improvement in motor function 30 minutes after use.  This fast-acting quality can allow patients experiencing an “off” period to achieve relief quickly.

Successfully managing “off” periods is crucial to maintaining a high quality of life for Parkinson’s patients.  Otherwise, uncontrolled symptoms can keep patients home and limit their long-term independence.  

As with other medical innovations, however, patients benefit only when the treatment is available to them.  It’s up to health plans to ensure that Parkinson’s patients have timely access to innovative treatments. Until a cure for Parkinson’s is found, helping patients maintain the best quality of life means ensuring they can access this, and other, breakthrough treatments.  

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