Medical Setbacks Make Life Harder

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by Dr. C |

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I recently had an unusual attack of kidney stones, passing 20 medium to large crystals within 24 hours. I stopped taking the plant-based vitamin I was trying, thinking it was the culprit, and the stones stopped. But the healing process took a surprisingly long time.

My usual routine was thrown into disarray. Everything became harder to accomplish — harder than my normal “hard” with Parkinson’s and vision loss, that is. With this new medical insult came increased fatigue and a sense of worthlessness due to the lack of accomplishment. I struggled to maintain steady emotions. Sleep was very disrupted. All of this was triggered by adding another medical condition on top of Parkinson’s.

Comorbidity is a medical term that means more than one disease or condition is present in the same person at the same time. Men, especially over 50, are more likely to have bladder stones. The Mayo Clinic notes that nerve damage from Parkinson’s disease can affect bladder function and increase the likelihood of stone formation.

In a study of 1,765 primary Parkinson’s patients in Spain, the most frequent comorbidities included essential hypertension (34%), diabetes mellitus type 2 (15%), unspecified hyperlipidemia (elevated blood cholesterol, 14%), depressive disorder (8%), atrial fibrillation (7%), and urinary tract infections (7%).

Another study from the Canadian Community Health Survey reported that back problems (36%), arthritis (34.3%), hypertension (29.3%), cataracts (23.9%), and urinary incontinence (11.3%) were the most common medical comorbidities in Parkinson’s patients.

We are not alone. Parkinson’s patients are diagnosed at an average age of 60. Older people are also at an increased risk for falls, even if they don’t have Parkinson’s. Elderly patients with hip fractures often have multiple medical diagnoses, and only 4.9% of the elderly population with hip fractures reported no additional medical conditions to rate as comorbidities.

Hip fractures can be debilitating, especially in patients with preexisting Parkinson’s disease. They have reportedly worse outcomes than non-Parkinson’s disease patients. Parkinson’s patients were also found to have a significantly lower bone mineral density, a higher incidence of falls and hip fractures, a higher risk of pneumonia, urinary infections, and pressure sores, higher death rates after surgery, and more surgical complications.

These are some of the potential medical complications and setbacks. As Parkinson’s patients, we grapple with our disease. Too often, it seems, we also must face unexpected complications from other medical events. And these include emotional ramifications.

In the Nov. 16 issue of People, actor Michael J. Fox candidly discussed his setback after a fall at home in 2018, which resulted in a severely fractured arm. He also relates the emotional reactions that he incurred.

“What stays the tears is my seething, self-directed anger. Idiot. You screwed it all up. Your surgery, your health, months of rehab [after previous surgery], all the time and effort people put into you, … I am stretched by what I have to deal with. I’m thinking about my messed-up balance and all the rest of it – a very real setback for me. … Have I reached a line beyond which there is no compromise or consolation? My optimism is suddenly finite.”

After we moved across the country during the pandemic, I suffered a serious setback due to numerous muscle injuries and stress. It’s been a challenge, and it feels overwhelming at times. I keep reminding myself that the area of the brain responsible for buffering emotional input is broken. Life is not as hard as I sometimes perceive it to be.

I look directly at the external world around me and ask, “Is there evidence that this moment is causing me or my loved ones harm?” Almost always, the answer is no. My needs are met and there are no real threats. There are only the perceived ones that I create out of my pain and my suffering. It is easy for a setback to set us spinning and reeling in a flood of emotions and decreased problem-solving skills.

Perhaps if we know the risks, if we know when the road is washed out by a second medical condition, then we can take a detour. But the unexpected happens. Life takes a turn we don’t expect. It can feel overwhelming.

Take a deep breath and focus on one brick at a time. We just have to show up and not give up. As Michael J. Fox said, “It’s not that I wasn’t sincere before, but my gratitude is deeper now.”


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Rick M avatar

Rick M

I have PD and found the article to be compelling.

Trying to find optimism in the midst of PD and other comorbidity's is very challenging.

I liked the comorbidity data also.

Dr. C avatar

Dr. C

Hi Rick ~ We try to include as much science in the columns to substantiate what we state. Many of us with PD, due to age mostly -- alas, have pre-existing or co-occurring health issues with PD. The challenge is to keep as much of our lives healthy as we can. But juggling all the health issues and PD and now the possibility of contracting Covid is a difficult task. We hope that the data will support lifestyle changes, or accommodations, as we continue to manage our lives.
Thanks for the comment. Wishing you and yours a very safe and happy holiday season.
Dr. C.

Garrrett McAuliffe avatar

Garrrett McAuliffe

Dr. C. This was a very important article for me. I have had COVID-19 for three weeks now and it has exacerbated all of my Parkinson’s symptoms. Mostly it has resulted in some sadness anger and depression. I count on you Michael J Fox and others as lights in the storm to hang in there. Sudden change in my capacity and exacerbation of my Parkinson’s symptoms is a bit daunting. I appreciate your inspiration and wisdom. Sometimes we can feel very alone on this journey.
Garrrett McAuliffe

Dr. C avatar

Dr. C

Hi Garrett ~ It's very important to remember that in addition to the Covid symptoms, people like us with co-occurring diseases like PD, can be affected most adversely. I sincerely hope that you are regaining strength and returning to a state of health from Covid. There are other articles on the Internet about the co-occurrence of Covid and PD. The combination of the two creates problems greater than the sum of its parts.
Wishing you and yours the very best over the holiday season and into 2021!
Dr. C.

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Great column, Dr. C. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed it and we all need to live our best life with this disease, but because of PD, we’ve got to live it cautiously. Thanks for the reminder.

Dr. C avatar

Dr. C

Hi Sherri ~ Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to writing in 2021 and reading your work in the upcoming year.
Wishing you and yours the very best for the holiday season.
Dr. C.


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