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Michael J. Fox Leaving 'Spin City' to Focus on Parkinson's Disease


WebMD Health News

Jan. 19, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Actor Michael J. Fox has acted as a high-profile spokesperson for the debilitating condition called Parkinson's disease, taking his message as far as Capitol Hill. Now the actor, who has been afflicted with the disease since 1991, is taking a more personal step, by announcing that he will stop work on the highly-rated ABC sitcom 'Spin City' to focus his energies on his family, himself, and finding a cure.

Fox made the announcement Tuesday, saying that he would leave the show at the end of this season. He said he wants to escape the rigors of a weekly TV series, but is not planning on permanently retiring from show business. "I could not be more proud of the show ... and all that we have accomplished over the last four years, yet I feel that right now my time and energy would be better spent with my family and working toward a cure for Parkinson's disease," the actor said.

Most people affected by the chronic, neurological disorder are over 50, with the average age of onset being 60. Fox, who has three children with his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, is only 38. About 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson's each year, which affects anywhere from 500,000 to one million people. Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Attorney General Janet Reno are among them.

Fox revealed his condition to the public in 1998 in order to help his family, he said, and other sufferers of the disease.

It is still not known what causes Parkinson's, and there is no cure. A major breakthrough occurred in the early 1960s, when it was discovered that Parkinson's sufferers progressively lose nerve cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, which helps direct muscle activity. That led to the first effective treatments for the condition.

The disease affects movement, leading to such symptoms as tremors, stiffness, slowness, and postural instability or impaired balance and coordination. The symptoms of the disease get worse over time, leading to difficulty walking, talking, or completing simple tasks. In its final phases, Parkinson's can cause dementia in some people. Since it does not directly affect organs such as the heart, it is not considered life-threatening. But the slow deterioration of a person's ability to live normally can certainly threaten quality-of-life, leading to depression or emotional changes such as fearfulness and insecurity.

The so-called "gold standard" of treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been the use of the drug Sinemet (levodopa or L-dopa). Nerve cells use the drug to replenish the brain's dwindling supply of dopamine. L-dopa is usually combined with another drug to help more of it reach critical areas of the brain. But it doesn't always work well over time, and it also doesn't always help with all symptoms. There are other drugs, given in varying combinations, which can help treat symptoms of the disease.

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