WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Rep. Jennifer Wexton, (D-Va.), announced Monday she won’t seek reelection after learning she has a severe form of Parkinson’s disease.
Wexton, who plans to continue serving the rest of her term, which runs through 2024, said she received a modified diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy. She described it as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”
According to the Associated Press, Wexton said she received the new diagnosis after feeling like she wasn’t responding well to treatment and noticing that the women in her Parkinson’s support group were having a different experience.
Dr. Pritha Ghosh, a movement disorders neurologist at The George Washington University Hospital, said progressive supra-nuclear palsy, or PSP, is extremely rare.
“On average the incidents of PSP is somewhere in the range of 0.3 to 0.4 per 100,000 people. So it’s very rare to have this form of neurodegenerative disease,” she said.
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination. The symptoms and rate of progression differ among individuals. Early symptoms of the disease are subtle and occur gradually, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a form of atypical parkinsonian syndrome, also known as a Parkinson-plus disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health. Ghosh said there is no cause of PSP and by the time a person really notices symptoms they’ve probably had it for a few years.
“Typically some of the first symptoms a person may start to experience are things like having falls or balancing problems, difficulty walking, often times a person’s posture may be different where they may be more erect or their head is sort of bent upwards,” Ghosh said.
“They may also have blurred vision because it can affect your eye movements and how you coordinate your eye movements and that can lead to double vision,” she added.
Ghosh said there is no cure for PSP.
“Neurodegenerative diseases progress and at this time we treat each of the symptoms that develop symptomatically,” she said. “We have treatments for the cognitive symptoms, movement symptoms, some of the other sleep related or other symptoms that can develop, but nothing to actually stop the disease process,” she said.
Ghosh said there are some studies going on now looking at potential therapies in the future.