Thursday, 18 Aug 2022

Parkinson’s disease: Two ‘early signs’ that could appear up to 10 years before diagnosis

Parkinson's: What is it and what are the symptoms?

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Parkinson’s occurs when proteins start clumping in the brain, causing the death of dopamine-producing neurons. The death of these cells directly affects movement, causing physical limitations, tremors and slowness. Catching the disease early is important, as some treatments are more effective when administered at this stage. According to one new study, epilepsy and hearing loss could be two previously unknown early factors of Parkinson’s. The discovery could make earlier diagnosis a greater possibility in the future.

Researchers at Queen Mary University London, have said the findings could help patients prolong their quality of life and manage their condition.

The authors were able to detect the two early warning signs by drawing on electronic healthcare records.

Medical records were available for over a million people between 1990 and 2018, who lived in East London.

The team discovered that “known symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including tremor and memory problems, can appear up to 10 to five years before diagnosis, respectively”.

But they also uncovered two previously unknown features of the disease too; epilepsy and hearing loss.

READ MORE: Eyesight: The change in your blinking signalling your brain may be ‘damaged’

Lead author, Doctor Cristina Simonet, neurologist and PhD study at Queen Mary University London, commented: “This is the first study focussing on the pre-diagnostic phase of Parkinson’s in such a diverse population with high socioeconomic deprivation but universal access to health care.”

The findings, published in JAMA, were replicated using additional data from the UK Biobank.

The researchers wrote: “Our results uncovered novel risk factors and early symptoms: epilepsy and hearing loss.

“While previous research has hinted at the association, such as epilepsy being more prevalent in Parkinson’s patients than in the general population, more research is now needed for us to fully understand the relationship.

“In the meantime, it’s important that primary care practitioners are aware of these links and understand how early the symptoms of Parkinson’s can appear so that patients get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition.”

Although epilepsy had previously been identified as an uncommon comorbidity of Parkinson’s, it hasn’t been considered directly associated with the disease until now.

Hearing loss is also a known risk factor for other neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, with some studies showing it could double the risk of brain decline.

The condition, however, has not previously been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

Doctor Alastair Noyce, reader in neurology and neuro-epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, who is an author of the new study, said: “This study confirms that many of the symptoms and early features of Parkinson’s can occur long before a diagnosis.

“If we’re able to diagnose Parkinson’s disease early, we have a real opportunity to intervene early and offer treatments that could improve quality of life for patients.”

Parkinson’s disease is one of the fastest-growing neurological disorders in the world, with rates of the disorder increasing by 35 percent in the US in the last decade.

The majority of cases lack a clear cause, but exposure to toxins may be one of the only modifiable risk factors for the condition.

Age, heredity and sex are some of the biggest risk factors, with men at greater risk than women.

Symptoms usually start off in a subtle manner, sometimes causing a minor tremor in just one hand.

As the condition progresses, however, debilitating stiffness could threaten the sufferer’s ability to move properly.

The disease currently has no cure, but some treatments are able to lessen its side effects.

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