Keeping an eye on developing certain health conditions is a part of the aging process everyone faces at some point, whether it’s heart disease, dementia, or diabetes. But with more than 1 million confirmed cases and 60,000 patients in the U.S. diagnosed a year, Parkinson’s disease is another potential concern that shouldn’t be overlooked. Fortunately, mounting research is providing the medical community with a better understanding of how doctors can treat the neurological condition and any red flags that could help them detect and diagnose it as soon as possible. And according to a new study, two particular symptoms could be the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. Read on to see the health signals that warrant a visit to your doctor.
In a new study published in JAMA Neurology, a team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London aimed to shed more light on which health problems might be precursors or early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease. To do this, the group analyzed the health records of 1,016,277 people who lived in East London between 1990 and February 2018, including 1,055 who developed Parkinson’s throughout the record-keeping period.
Results showed that typical warning signs such as tremors or memory loss could be seen in patients five to ten years before diagnosis. But researchers found two other early symptoms to be reliable warning signs of the condition: epilepsy and hearing loss.
According to the study, results found that hearing loss signaled a 66 percent increased risk of patients developing Parkinson’s disease, with researchers speculating that it could result from the beginning of changes in the brain’s functions. “Although the role of early hearing loss requires further research, it is possible that this factor represents another deficit in sensory processing that occurs as part of Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis, similar to visual impairment,” Cristina Simonet, MD, a neurologist, PhD student, and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
But the association with epilepsy was even more significant, with patients who experienced the condition found to be 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s later in life. The researchers pointed out that previous studies have established a connection between epilepsy medication and Parkinson’s, providing possible causality that required further investigation. “The prevalence of epilepsy in patients with Parkinson’s disease has been reported as being higher than the estimated prevalence in the general population,” the researchers wrote.
“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 can get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition,” the team ultimately concluded.
Besides pinpointing the two possible early symptoms, the researchers also highlighted how the study was groundbreaking thanks to the scope of data analyzed. “This is the first study focusing on the pre-diagnostic phase of Parkinson’s in such a diverse population with high socioeconomic deprivation but universal access to healthcare,” Simonet said. “People from minority ethnic groups and deprived areas have largely been underrepresented in Parkinson’s research up until now, but to allow us to get a full picture of the condition, we need to ensure research is inclusive and represents all those affected.”
Other experts heralded the results and said the findings could eventually have a real-world impact on healthcare. “For many, Parkinson’s can go undiagnosed for years, if not decades. Identifying the early symptoms of Parkinson’s provides hope that in the future we might be able to detect the condition earlier,” Beckie Port, MD, head of research communications and engagement at Parkinson’s U.K., said in a statement. “This opens the door to the development of treatments that could one day stop the condition in its tracks. However, this research shows that those early signs might not be the same for everyone and has highlighted two new early symptoms that have, so far, received little attention.”
But hearing loss and epilepsy aren’t the only early sign of Parkinson’s you need to watch out for. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, other early symptoms include tremors, small handwriting, loss of smell, trouble walking, constipation, low voice, dizziness, fainting, and hunching over. If you notice any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor to determine if any examinations or treatments are necessary.