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This Could Be a New Early Warning Sign of Parkinson’s Disease, Study Suggests

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Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neurodegenerative brain condition characterized by tremors and stiffness, affects approximately 500,000 individuals in the United States. Sadly, there is currently no cure for this condition, and some experts even suggest that the number of Americans living with PD may be as high as 1 million.

A recent study published in JAMA Neurology has shed light on a potential link between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the development of Parkinson’s disease. The study warns that individuals with RA may face an increased risk of developing PD.

The research, led by the Kosin University College of Medicine in Korea, discovered a significant correlation between patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the occurrence of Parkinson’s disease. The findings revealed that patients with RA were associated with a 1.74-fold higher risk of developing PD compared to those without RA.

The study utilized the Korean National Health Insurance Service database to conduct a retrospective cohort study. The database provided nationally representative data on patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who were enrolled from 2010 to 2017 and followed up until 2019.

A total of 54,680 patients with RA were included in the study, with 39,010 having seropositive RA and 15,670 having seronegative RA. To establish a control group, a demographic match was created, consisting of patients without RA, with a five-to-one matching ratio. The control group comprised a total population of 273,400 individuals.

Among the analyzed population of 328,080, a total of 1,093 individuals developed Parkinson’s disease (PD). Of these, 803 were from the control group, while 290 had RA. The participants with RA demonstrated a 1.74-fold higher risk of PD (with a confidence interval of 1.52–1.99) compared to the control group. Furthermore, the risk of PD was found to be greater in patients with seropositive RA (confidence interval of 1.68–2.26), while the risk was less pronounced in those with seronegative RA (confidence interval of 0.91–1.57).

These findings are noteworthy as they contradict previous research on the relationship between these two conditions.

In a 2009 Danish Cancer Society study, researchers investigated the association between autoimmune diseases and PD risk. The study involved 13,695 patients diagnosed with PD, who were demographically matched to five random population controls from Denmark. The results demonstrated a notable decrease in PD risk by 30% among individuals with autoimmune diseases.

A more recent 2021 study conducted in Sweden focused on an 8,256 PD patient cohort, comparing them to ten controls based on demographic characteristics. The study found that individuals with a prior diagnosis of RA experienced a significantly decreased risk of developing PD, ranging from 30% to 50% compared to those without an RA diagnosis.

In Taiwan, two studies explored the relationship between RA and PD. The first study, conducted in 2016, involved a nationwide population-based analysis of 33,221 RA patients, revealing a substantial 35% reduction in PD rates among this cohort. However, a subsequent 2017 study with 19,542 RA patients suggested a modest 14% increased risk of developing PD.

The researchers of the present study propose that additional investigations are required to establish a mechanistic connection between rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease due to the noteworthy positive association found in their data.

Given the significant variations in previous research outcomes, it is possible that the observed statistical correlations, whether positive or negative, indicate a lack of any existing causal relationship between the two variables. Alternatively, if a connection does indeed exist, the mechanism by which it operates would be at a critical juncture. RA is known to have a strong genetic component, while PD is primarily associated with genetic markers in only approximately 10% of cases, suggesting a substantial influence of environmental factors. To resolve the contradictory findings, further investigation is necessary.

Image Credit: Getty

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