Researchers Identify An Underlying Cause Of Pneumonia in PD

This news about the underlying cause of pneumonia in those with PD may be of interest to some. Presumably these findings apply to the atypical parkinsonism world as well. This press release from mid-September ’08 is from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. … nsons.aspx

Pitt Researchers Identify An Underlying Cause Of Pneumonia Common In Parkinson’s Disease Patients

PITTSBURGH, September 17, 2008 — Impaired coordination between breathing and swallowing may be the underlying cause of aspiration pneumonia in patients with Parkinson’s disease, report researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in a recent issue of the journal Dysphagia.

At least half of all Parkinson’s patients report having difficulty swallowing, and a higher percentage show swallowing abnormalities on X-ray tests. Aspiration pneumonia, a leading cause of death for individuals with Parkinson’s, often develops as a complication of mealtime swallowing problems, leading to the inhalation of food and drink. The high prevalence of swallowing problems and risk of aspiration pneumonia in these patients may be largely due to flawed breathing and swallowing patterns, according to the researchers.

The findings, marking a significant step toward preventing aspiration pneumonia in patients with Parkinson’s, indicate that swallowing problems may be respiratory-based as well as neuromuscular-based, helping to explain why Parkinson’s medications do not consistently help to improve swallowing function.

“Most Parkinson’s patients don’t know they have swallowing problems ­ even though aspiration pneumonia often is a severe complication of the disease ­ and Parkinson’s drugs most often do not improve these patients’ swallowing function,” said Roxann Diez Gross, Ph.D., principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Now that we know the respiratory system may play an important role in swallowing problems in patients with Parkinson’s disease, we can develop therapies to help these patients re-coordinate breathing and swallowing patterns to improve swallowing function and possibly avoid aspiration pneumonia,” said Dr. Gross, who also is a speech language pathologist and director of the Swallowing Disorders Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) Department of Otolaryngology.

Dr. Gross, an expert in swallowing and its disorders, has begun to incorporate this and other research into therapies for Parkinson’s patients at the UPMC Swallowing Disorders Center, which is under the medical direction of the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology’s Ricardo Carrau, M.D., Bridget Hathaway, M.D., and Libby Smith, D.O. Dr. Gross currently sees Parkinson’s patients with swallowing disorders, and thus far, she has been able to stop aspiration instantly in some patients, after quickly teaching them how to re-coordinate their breathing and swallowing patterns.

While the underlying cause of swallowing problems in Parkinson’s has not been well understood, prior research has found that healthy adults swallow most often during exhalation and that exhalation regularly follows the swallow, even when a swallow occurs during inhalation. Dr. Gross’s study looked at 25 Parkinson’s patients and a control group of healthy adults, all between ages 51 and 84, as they swallowed standardized portions of pudding and cookies. While participants from both groups spontaneously ate, researchers measured their nasal airflow and respiratory movement to determine where swallowing took place in the respiratory cycle. This data was then blinded and analyzed, and results found the Parkinson’s patients inhale during and after swallowing significantly more often than the healthy adults. Also, the Parkinson’s patients swallowed at low lung volumes more often than the healthy adults.

This research was performed at the University Drive location of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and was funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Research and Rehabilitation Merit Review Program. Additional authors include Sheryl B. Ross, M.A., UPMC Department of Otolaryngology; Charles W. Atwood, Jr., M.D., UPMC Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System; Kimberly A. Eichhorn, M.S., and Patrick J. Doyle, Ph.D., VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System; and Joan W. Olszewski, M.A., Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.