Hearing loss and epilepsy identified as ‘early signs’ of Parkinson’s

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According to a study that tracked more than a million people over 30 years, epilepsy, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes were found to increase the risk too.

Research was carried out in London’s East End, where the most ethnically diverse population lives.

It found that tremors – a classic symptom of Parkinson’s – do not lead to a diagnosis on average until 10 years after they begin.

Study co-author Dr Alastair Noyce said: “This is too long for patients to wait. If we’re able to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier, we have a real opportunity to intervene early and offer treatments that could improve quality of life for patients.”

Worldwide there are six million people with Parkinson’s, including 145,000 in the UK.

Classic symptoms include tremor, slowness, stiff muscles and memory loss. The number of cases is set to triple over the next two decades. There is no cure.

The analysis of electronic primary healthcare records between 1990 and 2018 showed tremor and forgetfulness appeared up to a decade and five years before diagnosis respectively.

Hearing loss and epilepsy were also identified as early features – confirmed using additional data from the UK Biobank, a database of half a million volunteers’ health records. The new study was the first to look at minority ethnic groups from a deprived urban population. Previous research has largely focused on affluent white populations.

Nearly half of East London residents are from black, south Asian or other ethnic groups, compared to 14 percent in the rest of the UK.

It also has some of the highest levels of deprivation, with eight in 10 participants from low-income households.

Lead author Dr Cristina Simonet, of Queen Mary University London, said: “This is the first study focusing on the pre-diagnostic phase of Parkinson’s in such a diverse population. To allow us to get a full picture of the condition we need to ensure research is inclusive and represents all those affected.”

She said more research was needed to understand the link between Parkinson’s and the other conditions.

She added: “It’s important primary care practitioners are aware of these links and understand how early the symptoms of Parkinson’s can appear, so patients can get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition.” The findings are in the Jama Neurology journal.

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