Researchers Think These Factors May Be Linked to Parkinson’s
My sister Bev had symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) for about eight years before she was properly diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 78.
She told me that before she was diagnosed, while she was first working as a nurse and then as an echocardiography technician, she experienced uncontrollable shaking in her head and left hand. She also had some issues with dizziness, balance, and walking.
Neither of us could think of anyone in our family who also had Parkinson’s, although perhaps some family members had it and ignored the symptoms. Because of this, I wanted to explore possible risk factors that might be linked to PD.
Of course, much is still unknown about what causes Parkinson’s, and as Johns Hopkins Medicine points out, there are no objective screening tests for it. However, there are a “constellation of factors” that could be linked to it. Five of those are genetics, age, gender, exposure to environmental toxins, and repeated head trauma.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 15-25% of people with PD have a relative who either has it or had it. Certain genes and gene mutations also have strong links to PD.
Johns Hopkins calls advancing age the “biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson’s.” People over 60 are at an increased risk, as only about 10-20% of Parkinson’s cases are diagnosed as early-onset, which occurs before the age of 50.
Studies also have found that men are more likely than women to develop PD, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. It isn’t completely understood why men have a greater risk, although environmental or other factors, such as the female hormone estrogen, may play a role.
The relationship between exposure to environmental risks, such as pesticides and heavy metals, and the development of neurological conditions like PD is an area of continuous study. So far, results have been inconclusive.
Repeated head trauma
Although not definitive, repeated blows to the head or the back of the neck seem to increase a person’s risk of developing PD, according to The Michael J. Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Several studies have shown a link between head trauma and an increase in a person’s risk of developing PD.
One famous example of this suspected link is the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s diagnosis and subsequent decline in health. Ali died in 2016 at the age of 74, after a lifetime of taking repeated blows to the head.
Some research has found that early symptoms, such as my sister’s hand tremors and head shaking, may be present years before a PD diagnosis is determined.
As Parkinson’s News Today‘s Lindsey Shapiro recently reported, researchers in the U.K. found that Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors, cognitive difficulties, epilepsy, and hearing loss, can be present up to 10 years before a person is diagnosed.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Alastair Noyce, scientists are “hoping to identify people at high risk of Parkinson’s even before obvious symptoms appear—which means that we could do more than just improve quality of life for patients, and perhaps be in the position to slow down or cure Parkinson’s in the future.”
After having PD symptoms for years, my sister was finally referred to a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Neurological Restoration. A number of tests, including an MRI, cognitive tests, and movement and balance analyses, were conducted, and she was diagnosed with PD.
We all need to be aware of potential risk factors that may be linked to the development of PD, especially those who have a family member with the disease. Please discuss any concerns or symptoms with the appropriate healthcare professional.
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.