Muhammad Ali’s fight against Parkinson’s helped encourage others with the disease to open up, and his efforts also triggered a massive public health and research mission to determine the true cause of Parkinson’s. The research is still ongoing, but progress has been swift and fascinating. Tucson, AZ, Parkinson’s care experts explore some of the reasons why Ali became such an important figurehead in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Early Assumptions About Ali’s Diagnosis
Many observers and medical professionals assumed Ali’s Parkinson’s diagnosis was at least partially caused by repeated blows to the head. Many researchers claimed this viewpoint was intuitive, and few people in the general media questioned the analysis. Although the National Parkinson Foundation still lists head injuries among the possible causes of the disease, research has progressed far beyond these rudimentary assumptions. Many different genetic linkages are thought to contribute to Parkinson’s, most of which concern the release of dopamine from nerve cells at various points throughout the body. A better understanding of these linkages has moved medical comprehension of Parkinson’s past a focus on blows to the brain.
His Treatments for the Condition
Muhammad Ali’s treatments were typical of the day. He was given synthetic dopamine to replace the dopamine his nerve cells were unable to produce. The synthetic dopamine allowed his nerve cells to communicate, but caused tremors and other physical issues in his body. In many Parkinson’s cases, doctors argue this blanket treatment often causes as much harm as it prevents.
How He Helped Reclassify the Disease
Some researchers have begun referring to Parkinson’s disease as Parkinson’s syndrome. The name change is meaningful because it could affect the way medical professionals approach treatment. Instead of solely using dopamine injections as treatment, doctors can determine the genetic root of the particular disease and work backward from there. Widening the array of Parkinson’s treatments may be one of Muhammad Ali’s greatest legacies.
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