Anxiety After 50 Doubles Parkinson’s Risk, New Study Reveals

A study from University College London (UCL) has uncovered a significant link between anxiety and Parkinson’s disease. People over 50 who develop anxiety face at least twice the risk of later being diagnosed with Parkinson’s compared to those without anxiety.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the research analyzed UK primary care data from 2008 to 2018. The team examined 109,435 patients who developed anxiety after age 50 and compared them to 878,256 matched controls without anxiety.

Researchers tracked Parkinson’s features such as sleep problems, depression, tremor, and balance impairment from the point of anxiety diagnosis up to one year before a Parkinson’s diagnosis. This approach helped them understand each group’s risk of developing Parkinson’s over time and identify potential risk factors.

Anxiety: A New Early Warning Sign?

The study’s findings remained consistent even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, social deprivation, lifestyle, severe mental illness, head trauma, and dementia. Dr. Juan Bazo Avarez, co-lead author from UCL Epidemiology & Health, explained the significance:

“Anxiety is known to be a feature of the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, but prior to our study, the prospective risk of Parkinson’s in those over the age of 50 with new-onset anxiety was unknown.

“By understanding that anxiety and the mentioned features are linked to a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease over the age of 50, we hope that we may be able to detect the condition earlier and help patients get the treatment they need.”

Implications for Early Detection and Treatment

Parkinson’s disease, the world’s fastest-growing neurodegenerative disorder, affects nearly 10 million people globally. It’s caused by the death of nerve cells in the brain’s substantia nigra, which controls movement. These cells lose the ability to produce dopamine due to a buildup of the protein alpha-synuclein.

Professor Anette Schrag, co-lead author from UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, highlighted the need for further research:

“Anxiety is not as well researched as other early indicators of Parkinson’s disease. Further research should explore how the early occurrence of anxiety relates to other early symptoms and to the underlying progression of Parkinson’s in its early stages.

“This may lead to better treatment of the condition in its earliest stages.”

The study also confirmed that symptoms like depression, sleep disturbance, fatigue, cognitive impairment, hypotension, tremor, rigidity, balance impairment, and constipation were risk factors for developing Parkinson’s in people with anxiety.

This research opens new avenues for early detection and intervention in Parkinson’s disease. It complements recent advancements, such as a simple blood test developed by UCL and University Medical Centre Goettingen researchers that uses artificial intelligence to predict Parkinson’s up to seven years before symptoms appear.

As our understanding of Parkinson’s early indicators grows, so does the potential for improved patient outcomes. The researchers suggest future studies should explore why people over 50 with new-onset anxiety are at higher risk and whether the severity of anxiety affects their outcomes.

This study, funded by the European Union AND-PD grant, marks a significant step forward in our understanding of Parkinson’s disease risk factors and early detection strategies.


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