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Traumatic Brain Injury Increases Parkinson's Risk

A recent study in the journal Neurology found that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease (PD). While this link was already known, these results add further supportive evidence. (Read more about TBI and Parkinson's.)

Researchers looked at the medical records of 325,870 veterans, half of whom had a mild, moderate or severe TBI. (Mild was defined as loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes and memory loss for less than 24 hours; moderate to severe was defined as loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes and memory loss for more than 24 hours.) At the start of the study, none of the veterans had a diagnosis of Parkinson's.

Within 12 years, 1,462 veterans were diagnosed with PD, and 949 of them had a TBI. After adjusting for age, medical conditions and other factors, researchers concluded that mild TBI increases risk of PD 56 percent and moderate to severe TBI increases PD risk 83 percent.

It's important to take this association seriously, but also to caveat these numbers. A traumatic brain injury does not guarantee Parkinson's disease. (In fact, less than 1 percent of veterans in this study developed PD, regardless of whether they had TBI.) Simply put, the chances of getting PD, even with a mild traumatic brain injury, are low.

What do these results mean? We all should, of course, avoid traumatic brain injury where possible. If you've had a TBI, see your doctor regularly and live a healthy lifestyle (exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, wear your seatbelt, etc.).

TBI is one of many potential environmental factors that likely interacts with genetics to bring about a PD diagnosis. Learning more about TBI can help not only with understanding the disease better, but also with new potential treatments and possibly even prevention.

The Michael J. Foundation has supported work into understanding the influence of brain injuries on Parkinson's risk, and we currently are funding many projects investigating inflammation, a potential link between TBI and Parkinson's. MJFF also is collecting information directly from patients through an online clinical study, Fox Insight, about symptoms, medications and environmental exposures (such as brain injury) to help researchers build a holistic understanding of disease. Join Fox Insight.

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