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New early signs of Parkinson’s uncovered in most diverse UK study to date


Hearing loss and epilepsy are early features of Parkinson’s, according to pioneering new research from Queen Mary University of London – the first UK study of the condition in such a diverse population, published today in JAMA Neurology.

Queen Mary researchers funded by Bart’s Charity used electronic primary healthcare records from over a million people living in East London between 1990 and 2018 to explore early symptoms and risk factors for Parkinson’s.

The researchers found that known symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including tremor and memory problems, can appear up to ten and five years before diagnosis respectively. They also uncovered two new early features of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and hearing loss, and were able to replicate these findings using additional data from the UK Biobank.

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 health care. People from minority ethnic groups and deprived areas have largely been under-represented in Parkinson’s research up till 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. Our results uncovered novel risk factors and early symptoms: epilepsy and hearing loss. Whilst 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 can get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition.

Lead study author Dr Cristina Simonet, neurologist and PhD student at Queen Mary

People see their GPs with symptoms but often don’t get a diagnosis until five to ten years after this. This is too long for patients to wait. If we’re able to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier, we have a real opportunity to intervene early and offer treatments that could improve quality of life for patients. This study confirms that many of the symptoms and early features of Parkinson’s can occur long before a diagnosis. Through our ongoing PREDICT-PD research, we’re hoping to identify people at high risk of Parkinson’s even before obvious symptoms appear – which means that we could do more than just improve quality of life for patients, and perhaps be in the position to slow down or cure Parkinson’s in the future.

Dr Alastair Noyce, reader in neurology and neuroepidemiology at Queen Mary

PREDICT-PD is a large research project funded by Parkinson’s UK that aims to identify people at high risk of developing the condition. The researchers are looking for 10,000 people aged 60-80 years from all backgrounds who do not have Parkinson’s, to take part in a simple set of online tests that screen for factors linked to increased risk of the condition.

 

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