Head Injury and Parkinson's Disease

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Head Injuries may increase the risk for Parkinson's disease - A recent study found that people who sustain substantial head injuries were about four times more likely to develop  neurological disease later in life than those who never had such injuries, results showed. Those who had experienced head trauma involving a loss of consciousness, skull fracture, prolonged memory loss or more severe complications were 11 times more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than those who had never sustained head trauma. People with mild head injuries who did not lose consciousness or experience memory loss lasting at least 30 minutes faced no increased risk, according to findings published in the journal Neurology.

Study author Dr. James H. Bower, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota explained that an average person's lifetime risk of developing Parkinson's is 1.7 percent. Those with the more severe head trauma may face almost a 20 percent risk.

In the report, the researchers present several theories about how head trauma might promote Parkinson's disease. One possibility is that the blood-brain barrier becomes disrupted during head trauma, allowing damaging proteins or other substances in blood to enter the brain. Another is that head trauma causes the brain to make destructive proteins. A third possibility is that head trauma kills brain cells immediately, and over time further brain cell loss from natural aging fuels the disease.

While there's no proven way to prevent Parkinson's disease, Bower said, everyone should take precautions to avoid head injuries. "People in contact sports really need to wear protective head gear," he advised. The same goes for bikers, skiers, skateboarders and others who might be at risk, he added -- SOURCE: Neurology 2003;60 and Reuters Health.

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