Some new research may have found useful clues, linking having a heart attack with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later on.
The reduced risk is about 20%, based on an analysis of 181,994 patients in the Danish health system who had a heart attack between 1995 and 2016, compared with 909,970 control subjects, matched for age, sex and year of their heart attack diagnosis. .
In addition, the risk of developing parkinsonism — which causes the same type of movement difficulties and other symptoms as Parkinson’s disease, although in this study not classified as Parkinson’s disease itself — was also reduced by 28%. The researchers followed the study participants for up to 21 years.
“The risk of Parkinson’s disease seems to be reduced in these patients, compared to the general population,” says the first author of the new paper, epidemiologist Jens Sundbøll from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.
This is the first time research has looked at the risk of Parkinson’s disease in heart attack survivors, and it is still too early to understand why the risk is reduced. Heart attacks and Parkinson’s disease have a complex set of risk factors, and it is possible that the answer to this relationship lies somewhere within them.
Some classic risk factors for heart attacks — including smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes — have already been linked to a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. These links could therefore be the reason for the results observed in the new study.
However, the other risk factors are the same. Heart attacks and Parkinson’s disease are more likely in older people and less likely in people who drink more coffee and are more physically active.
The new study gives doctors more advice on where to focus their attention on people recovering from a heart attack.
“For doctors treating patients after a heart attack, these results indicate that cardiac rehabilitation should focus on preventing ischaemic stroke, vascular dementia and other cardiovascular diseases such as a new heart attack and heart failure,” says Sundbøll.
However, it seems that a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease and Parkinsonism is one of the outcomes of a heart attack. Further studies are needed to ascertain this, especially in more diverse racial and ethnic groups (although this research used a large sample, they were predominantly white).
Future research also needs to consider the impact of smoking and high cholesterol on the relationship between heart attack survivors and a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, which was not closely examined in this study.
“We have already found that following a heart attack, the risk of neurovascular complications such as ischaemic stroke [stroke caused by a clot] or vascular dementia is markedly increased, so the finding of a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease was somewhat surprising,” says Sundbøll. .