General health checkups may find early signs of Parkinson’s disease

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In a new study, researchers found that blood pressure, the hematocrit (the percentage of red blood cells in the blood), and serum cholesterol levels change in patients with Parkinson’s disease long before the onset of motor symptoms.

This finding may pave the way for early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The research was conducted by a team at Nagoya University in Japan.

Parkinson’s disease, the second most common disease affecting the nervous system after Alzheimer’s disease, is caused by a deficiency in a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

It is known that more than half of all dopaminergic neurons are already lost in patients with Parkinson’s disease in the stage wherein they experience motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and slowness of movement.

In addition, previous studies have shown that non-motor symptoms, such as constipation, rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, impairment of the sense of smell, and depression, emerge in patients with Parkinson’s disease10 to 20 years before the onset of motor symptoms.

These results suggest that Parkinson’s disease develops decades before the onset of motor symptoms.

In the study, the team focused on the results of general health checkups, which are carried out among individuals yearly in Japan.

They analyzed multiple years of data from the checkups of 22 male and 23 female patients with Parkinson’s disease whose checkup results before the onset of motor symptoms were available.

For comparison, the team also used data from the checkups of 60 male and 60 female healthy individuals who underwent checkups for at least four years.

The researchers first compared the baseline values of each checkup item between patients with Parkinson’s disease and healthy individuals separately by sex.

In men patients, the weight, body mass index, hematocrit, total and low-density cholesterol levels, and serum creatinine levels were lower than those in healthy men.

In women patients, the levels of blood pressure and an enzyme called aspartate aminotransferase were higher, while other items’ values were lower compared to those in healthy women.

Next, the researchers examined longitudinal changes in the checkup items in patients with Parkinson’s disease before the onset of motor symptoms.

As a result, they found that in the premotor stage, blood pressure levels are increased in women patients, whereas total and low-density cholesterol levels and the hematocrit are decreased in men.

The findings suggest that general health checkups can help detect early signs of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors may be able to detect biological changes in the patients’ bodies well before the onset of the motor symptoms, and they can start medical treatments in an early stage.

One author of the study is Professor Masahisa Katsuno.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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