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Is Parkinson’s Genetic?
Updated on January 31, 2024
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Is Parkinson’s Genetic?
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Parkinson’s disease can be genetic, but it rarely runs in families. Only 10 to 15 percent of total cases of Parkinson’s is hereditary.1

Most cases of Parkinson’s happen in people with no family history of the disease. 

Some genetic factors increase the likelihood of the disease. However, the exact genetic link has not been medically established yet.

Nearly anyone is at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. But some studies suggest that it affects more men than women, although further research is needed to support the claim.2

Studies also suggest that age is a significant risk factor for Parkinson’s. Most people with the condition first develop it after reaching 60.

Genes Linked to Parkinson’s

The list of genes related to Parkinson’s disease is ever-growing. The following are some of the genes scientists have discovered so far:6

  • SNCA gene
  • GBA gene
  • PARK2
  • PARK7
  • PINK1
  • LRRK2

Any gene mutation in these genetic variants increases your risk of developing Parkinson’s.

What are the Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s affects your movements, causing physical symptoms like tremors. However, early warning signs sometimes appear before the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s do.

They are marked as non-motor signs called prodromal symptoms, which include the following:8

  • Hyposmia or decreased sense of smell
  • Sleep disturbance called REM behavior disorder
  • Unexplained ongoing constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression

Will My Child Get Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease with a genetic link rarely happens. Besides, genetic factors don’t guarantee your child will get Parkinson’s.

The inheritance pattern of familial Parkinson’s disease may vary depending on the specific genes involved.6 

For example, if the gene mutations occured in the LRRK2 or SNCA genes, Parkinson’s is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. 

It means receiving just one copy of the mutated gene from either parent is enough for you to develop the condition.

The disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern if the genetic mutations are in the following genes:

  • PARK7
  • PINK1
  • PRKN

It means two copies—one from each parent—cause the condition. Both parents most likely carry the altered gene but don’t show symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease has four core motor symptoms that affect your physical movement.4

  1. Tremor – Shaking that more likely happens when your limbs are at rest. It usually begins in your hand or arm. 
  2. Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – Moving slower than usual physically, which can make it hard for you to finish tasks
  3. Muscle stiffness (rigidity) – Tension felt in your muscles, making it challenging to move around or make facial expressions
  4. Impaired balance and coordination 

Other symptoms of Parkinson’s include:

  • Smaller handwriting
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Problems with swallowing, chewing, and speaking
  • Skin problems

The rate at which these symptoms will show or progress varies for each person.

Can You Avoid Parkinson’s?

No. It’s not possible to avoid Parkinson’s since its cause is still unknown. 

Further, there are no proven ways to prevent this disease. But, some studies suggest that regular physical activity may lower your risk of Parkinson’s.9

Other research shows that people who consume caffeine are less likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who don’t.10

Can You Cure Parkinson’s?

No. Parkinson’s has no cure. Treatments, however, are available to help manage and ease your symptoms. They can help improve the quality of your life. Parkinson’s induced by medications can be reverted once the drug is withdrawn.

Treatment options for Parkison’s include:11

  • Physiotherapy and other supportive therapies like physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Medications for your motor symptoms
  • Deep brain stimulation surgery 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery is an FDA-approved surgical option for some people with Parkinson’s. It involves placing an electrode into a selected brain area.

A pacemaker-like device placed under the chest’s skin will stimulate the electrode.

What are Other Causes of Parkinson’s?

Most Parkinson’s cases don’t have genetic links. Many researchers believe that it may result from a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

The environmental risk factors of Parkinson’s disease include:12

  • Traumatic head injury
  • Exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals and industrial solvents
  • Exposure to herbicides and pesticides

Parkinson’s-like features are also present in those who take antipsychotic medications, so it's important to watch out for them.

How Do I Know If I’m a Carrier?

You can learn if you’re a carrier of Parkinson’s through genetic testing. Genetic testing for Parkinson’s started when scientists identified the first known genetic variant.

Knowing your genetic status also guides you on how to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

However, Parkinson’s has complex genetics. The presence of a single altered gene can’t determine your risk alone.

It’s important to talk to a genetic counselor before and after taking a genetic test for Parkinson’s. They can help interpret your results through genetic counseling.

Can I Diagnose Parkinson’s Early?

Doctors can’t definitively diagnose Parkinson’s until you show two out of the four main symptoms of the disorder. Besides, there still isn’t a specific test for Parkinson’s.

However, a neurologist may help diagnose you clinically by doing a detailed neurologic examination. 

They may also ask for your medical history, including the prodromal signs of Parkinson’s.

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. It causes the cells in the region of your brain called substantia nigra to lose their function and die.3

The substantia nigra is a critical brain area for the release of dopamine. Dopamine helps control many central nervous system functions like movement, cognitive activities, and so on.

Parkinson’s also affects several body parts controlled by your nerves. It results in unintended and sometimes almost convulsive movements, such as stiffness or shaking.

It can also lead to problems with balance and muscle coordination.

Parkinson’s also severs the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine—the primary chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).4 

Norepinephrine helps the sympathetic nervous system control body functions like heart rate and blood pressure.

The loss of norepinephrine may be linked to some non-movement symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Irregular blood pressure
  • Reduced movement of food throughout the digestive tract
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure when standing up from sitting or lying 

Scientists observe that people with Parkinson’s have many brain cells containing Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are unusual clumps or deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein.5

The abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein can cause a form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia (LBD).

Types of Parkinson’s 

Parkinson’s has two main types: early (or young-onset) and late-onset Parkinson’s disease.

The majority of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are over 60. But, if someone between 21 and 50 shows early symptoms and is diagnosed, they have early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s has no particular cause. Yet, most scientists think early-onset cases are more likely to be familial or gene-related.

Studies suggest a genetic mutation in the PRKN gene is the most common cause of early-onset Parkinson’s. PRKN gene is one of the largest human genes.6

It contains instructions on making the protein parkin. Parkin helps break down unneeded proteins and plays a role in recycling mitochondria. Without it, proteins unnecessarily accumulate and cause damage.

When the symptoms of Parkinson’s begin after 50, doctors consider it late-onset Parkinson’s disease. 

The loss of neurons is a slow process. Symptoms only begin to show when 50% of neurons malfunction. This explains why age is a risk factor for the disease.

Study shows that people with late-onset Parkinson’s experience more significant motor impairment.7

Updated on January 31, 2024
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12 sources cited
Updated on January 31, 2024
  1. Genetics & Parkinson's.” Parkinson’s Foundation.
  2. Parkinson’s Disease in Women and Men: What’s the Difference?.” Journal of Parkinson's Disease.
  3. Parkinson’s Disease.” American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
  4. Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” National Insitute on Aging.
  5. Alpha-synuclein structure and Parkinson’s disease – lessons and emerging principles.” Molecular Neurodegeneration.
  6. The Genetic Link to Parkinson's Disease.” John Hopkins Medicine.
  7. Parkinson Disease With Old-Age Onset A Comparative Study With Subjects With Middle-Age Onset.” JAMA Neurology.
  8. Prevalence of Prodromal Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in the Late Middle-Aged Population.” Journal of Parkinson's Disease.
  9. Physical activity and risk of Parkinson's disease: a prospective cohort study.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.
  10. Even In People With Parkinson’s Gene, Coffee May Be Protective.” American Academy of Neurology.
  11. Parkinson's Treatment Options.” John Hopkins Medicine.
  12. Environmental Factors.” Parkinson’s Foundation.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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