Family Health History and Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons disease assails both women and men. Most of the people who are diagnosed with Parkinsons disease are over 50, however, about five percent of Parkinsons sufferers are young-onset cases under the age of 40. The disease is somewhat common, estimates are that approximately four million people suffer from the disease globally. About one million of these are in North America. Parkinsons symptoms usually occur when dopamine-producing cells in the brain are killed or damaged. 80 percent of these cells can be affected by the time most people are diagnosed with Parkinsons disease.

About 15 percent of cases of Parkinsons disease occur in people who have a family history of the condition, while the remaining 85 percent of cases are considered random, with no known history of the disease in the family; the inheritance pattern, if any exists, remains unknown.

When family history comes into play, it is usually a result of mutations of the LRRK2, PARK2, PARK7, PINK1, or SNCA genes. Mutation to other genes may also increase or decrease the risk of developing Parkinsons disease. Genetic testing may help shed light on an individuals propensity for developing Parkinsons disease when mutation is a factor.

Parkinsons disease can develop more than once in the same family without the condition being inherited. The causes of Parkinsons remain unclear, so its possible that environmental contributors may also play a role instead of or in addition to genetics.

Women and men who have Parkinsons disease may be anxious about passing on the disease to their children, but having a parent with Parkinsons only raises a persons risk of developing the disease at some point in his or her lifetime to about six percent. Additionally, women of child-bearing age with Parkinsons disease can safely have children without immediately ‘passing on the disease, though they should speak to their doctor about the possible effects of medications on the fetus in utero and afterward when the baby may be breastfeeding. Prospective parents should also consider discussing possible consequences of raising a child while living with Parkinsons and its progressive, long-term debilitation.