Scientific findings have determined that certain women have a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Those who have had four or more pregnancies are at higher risk.
Parkinson’s Disease in Women
Overall, there has been far more research on Parkinson’s disease in men than in women. However, more recent studies have taken a look at sex hormones and how they can affect the development of the condition. There has been more information on how the disease affects women and how gender, specifically, impacts it as well.
Generally speaking, most people think of Parkinson’s disease as a condition that only affects the elderly. However, around 3% to 5% of all women who have been diagnosed with the disorder are younger than 50 years old. Many of these women are still having regular menstrual cycles as well; and have not reached menopause or even perimenopause, the condition that occurs leading up to the end of the menstrual cycle.
Women with an Increased Parkinson’s Risk
Studies have shown that women who have been fertile for over 39 years and subsequently reached menopause have a lower Parkinson’s risk. The research also found that women who have been pregnant four or more times have a greater risk of developing the disease.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in Women
Women who are still having normal menstrual cycles who develop Parkinson’s have certain symptoms in common. Frequently, those symptoms are experienced during premenstrual syndrome or PMS and during the menstrual period as well. During PMS, common symptoms are bloating, breast tenderness, depression and weight gain. The symptoms subside after the woman’s period has finished but tend to return during the next cycle.
Interestingly, some of the women who reported experiencing Parkinson’s symptoms were on birth control pills. Those who were on the pill stated that their symptoms were somewhat more under control. However, it seems that more research needs to be done on Parkinson’s disease in women who are still fertile in order to make a definitive determination on what can keep symptoms truly in control. At the same time, it seems that relaxation techniques and regular exercise routines can help.
What Leads to Develop Parkinson’s Risk in Women?
According to Rachel Saunders-Pullman, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and neurologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, factors such as hormones and reproduction both play a part in women developing Parkinson’s. Although there have been many more studies performed on men than on women, Dr. Saunders-Pullman stated that there is a possibility that female hormones, specifically estrogen, may better protect women from developing the disease.
However, there may be conflicting results depending on the study in question. Dr. Saunders-Pullman and her team of researchers examined records from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. They compared the findings of 74,000 women who experienced natural menopause and another 7,800 who went through menopause after having surgery.
From there, the team divided each group of menopausal women into groups of three based on the length of their fertility. They also looked at data reported from the women themselves regarding whether they had received a Parkinson’s diagnosis. They found out the following:
• Women who experienced natural menopause and were fertile for over 39 years had a Parkinson’s risk that was 18% less than those who went through natural menopause after having 33 years of fertility. There was no such correlation among the surgical menopause group in terms of fertility length and Parkinson’s.
• Women who had four or more pregnancies and had natural menopause were 20% more likely to develop Parkinson’s versus those who had three or fewer. Again, there was no link among the surgical menopause group.
• Women who went through natural menopause and were treated with hormone therapy had no risk for the condition compared to those who never received such therapy.
• Women who reached menopause after surgery and had hormone therapy had twice as great a risk of Parkinson’s development than those who did not use hormonal therapy.
Women should be diligent about speaking with their doctor about menopause and their risk of Parkinson’s disease. It’s absolutely essential to always inform your doctor about any and all symptoms you experience.