January 18, 2022

To Your Good Health: Help with Parkinson’s disease symptoms

Is acupuncture a possible therapy to relieve back pain and stiffness associated with Parkinson’s disease?

There have been many trials that show acupuncture is superior to no treatment for various symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This is true especially for fatigue, but also in a composite score that includes stiffness. A systematic review of published studies found that “acupuncture has significant positive effects.”

Other studies have shown that sham acupuncture, where random areas of the body were needled, was also effective in treating symptoms. This has led some skeptical authors to conclude that acupuncture is a placebo effect: The treatment convinces people that they are getting better, so they do feel better. However, if acupuncture were completely harmless and improved symptoms, I would recommend it to people who were interested.

Acupuncture is mostly, but not entirely, harmless. Adverse events are not common with acupuncture, but they do happen. Minor adverse effects happen in about 9% of cases. Serious adverse events such as pneumothorax — sometimes called a collapsed lung — and nerve damage are occasionally reported.

I recently read in a magazine that it would be better to contact a registered nurse over a physician assistant for medical questions. I was surprised. Just what is the hierarchy below a doctor? How about a nurse practitioner?

I don’t look at doctors, nurses and physician assistants as being in a strict hierarchy, but as important members of a team, whose job is to provide care. All of us on a team have different strengths and different knowledge.

There are many parts of a nurse’s role that I, like the vast majority of doctors, am unqualified to perform, and any hospital, and many doctor’s offices, including mine, would descend into chaos within hours without nurses.

Individual offices have different ways of answering patient’s questions by phone. In some offices, the doctor answers it directly, but in others, the nurse or PA might. Both have knowledge and expertise to do so and can contact other members of the team if necessary. Both PAs and RNs are trained and skilled professionals.

Nurse practitioners are clinicians. They act in nearly all ways as a doctor does with their patients. Most NPs I have known have specialized areas of knowledge.

In my first faculty position at the University of Chicago, the NPs there had near-encyclopedic knowledge of gynecologic care of healthy women, and not only did they teach me a great deal, they were a valued resource when I had questions about well-woman care or common gynecologic issues.

My NP colleagues at Cornell have great expertise in care of diabetes, and I frequently solicit their advice. I am also delighted to answer questions my NP colleagues have of me in other areas. Years of practicing together has led to a mutual respect for each other’s strengths.

However, NPs are not physicians and generally do not perform surgery as a gynecologist does, nor usually take care of complex cases of Type 1 diabetes with insulin pumps, for example.

It’s important for all of us clinicians not to exceed our level of competence, and to recognize when we need help and to make appropriate consultations.

Keith Roach

Dr. Keith Roach

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu. © 2022 North America Synd., Inc.