Does Parkinson’s disease run in families? The role of genetics and more

Brain Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Jan 18, 2023

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you probably have many questions and concerns. Among the questions my patients often ask is whether Parkinson’s disease is inherited, and if they got it from a family member or could pass it on to their children. Here’s what you need to know about Parkinson’s disease and genetics.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system—specifically, the part of the brain that controls movement. People with Parkinson’s disease often experience tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination, which can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks.

Parkinson’s disease is more common in men than in women, and the risk of developing it increases with age. It is relatively common in the United States, with an estimated 1 million people living with the disease. While it is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 60, Parkinson’s disease can occur at any age, even in young adults. There is no known cure, but there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Is Parkinson’s disease genetic?

Some cases of Parkinson’s disease—around 15%—are inherited, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. In these cases, the disease is caused by any of several genetic mutations passed down from one or both parents. However, for the vast majority of cases of Parkinson’s disease, the cause is unknown.

The risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is higher if you have a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) with the disease, but it is still relatively low. The Parkinson’s Foundation puts the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease at about 15% if you have a parent with the disease and about 5% if you have a sibling with the disease.

Early onset Parkinson’s disease, also known as young onset Parkinson’s disease, refers to cases in people under the age of 50. These occurrences often are caused by a genetic mutation.

Genetic testing is available for Parkinson’s disease. However, it is important to note that genetic testing is not always necessary or recommended. Your doctor can help you determine if testing is appropriate for you based on your personal and family medical history.

Other risk factors for Parkinson’s disease

In addition to genetics and family history, there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. These include exposure to certain toxins, including some pesticides, and head injuries.

While you cannot control some of these risk factors, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, such as:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

Resources for living with Parkinson’s disease

There are many resources available to help you learn more about Parkinson’s disease and connect with others who are living with the condition.

  • The Parkinson’s Foundation: This non-profit organization provides education and support for people with Parkinson’s disease and their families, as well as research funding. It has a wealth of information on its website, including information on diagnosis and treatment, support groups and research updates.
  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research: This organization is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease by funding research and providing education and support for people with Parkinson’s disease and their families.
  • Local Parkinson’s societies: Most larger cities have local nonprofit organizations that provide education, support and resources such as free exercise and voice classes for people with Parkinson’s disease and their families. Dallas, for example, has the Dallas Area Parkinson’s Society. In Central Texas, you can reach out to the Capital Area Parkinson’s Society in Austin.
  • Support groups and online communities: There are many support groups and online communities that connect people with Parkinson’s disease with others who are living with the condition. These groups allow you to share experiences and advice, and can be a great source of support and encouragement. Maybe most importantly, they can help you feel less alone in your journey with Parkinson’s disease. You can find local support groups through the Parkinson’s Foundation or by searching online.
  • Your healthcare team: Your doctor, nurse and other healthcare professionals are invaluable resources for managing your Parkinson’s disease. They can provide you with information and assistance, and help you develop a treatment plan that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek support from them.
  • Local specialized care centers: Baylor Scott & White has centers throughout Texas with movement disorder experts on staff to provide comprehensive services for Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. Learn more about your care options.

Remember, you are not alone in your journey with Parkinson’s disease. There are many resources available to help you learn more about the condition and manage your symptoms. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and information.

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