Published: Sat, April 21, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

Single concussion may increase risk of Parkinson's disease by almost 60 percent

Single concussion may increase risk of Parkinson's disease by almost 60 percent

If you've ever had a mild concussion, your risk of developing Parkinson's disease goes up by 56 percent, a new study of more than 300,000 USA veterans suggests. All-severity TBI, mild TBI, and moderate-severe TBI were associated with increased PD risk in adjusted models (hazard ratios, 1.71, 1.56, and 1.83, respectively).

Parkinson's disease, an incurable neurological disorder, can cause tremors, stiffness and difficulty balancing, walking and coordinating your body's movements.

It's not clear exactly why head injuries are linked with an increased risk of Parkinson's. Such injuries are especially common among athletes, in the military and constitute "a growing epidemic among the elderly", the authors note. Mild traumatic brain injury was defined as being unconscious for 30 minutes or less, altered state of consciousness or amnesia for 24 hours or less. Half of these individuals had been diagnosed with a concussion or had experienced a moderate-to-severe traumatic head injury.

The researchers analyzed health information from 325,870 veterans, ages 31 to 65, using three US databases from the Veterans Health Administration. Half of the study participants had been diagnosed with either a mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury and half had not.

"Among military veterans, mTBI is associated with 56% increased risk of [Parkinson's Disease], even after adjusting for demographics and medical/psychiatric comorbidities", the researchers write.

Over a period of up to 12 years, a total of 1,462 of the veterans developed Parkinson's.

Each year roughly 42 million people worldwide experience a concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury.

"Our research looked a very large population of USA veterans who had experienced either mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury in an effort to find an answer to whether a mild traumatic brain injury can put someone at risk", said senior study author Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and epidemiology. What they found was a dramatic increase in the number of Parkinson's patients who had reported some form of TBI, including very mild TBI (mTBI) from concussions, earlier in their lives. "We need future studies to investigate if there are other risk factors for Parkinson's disease that can be modified after someone has a concussion", she said.

But this is not accurate. Less than one percent of veterans in the study developed Parkinson's.

In fact, just 360 of 76,297 veterans in the study who'd been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury developed Parkinson's disease, and 543 of 72,592 veterans once diagnosed with moderate to severe injury developed the disease. "As such, we believe [the study] has important implications for the general population", Yaffe said in a statement.

"Our research looked at a very large population of USA veterans who had experienced either a mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury in an effort to find an answer to whether a mild traumatic brain injury can put someone at risk", they said.

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling medical conditions are the best way to ward off any neurodegenerative disease, Gardner said.

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