If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you may wonder about life expectancy. Parkinson’s is a progressive brain disorder that affects mobility and mental ability. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the disease itself is not fatal. However, related complications can reduce life expectancy. The outlook also depends on your age, severity of your condition, and access to resources.
In Parkinson’s disease, cells that produce dopamine start to die. Dopamine is a chemical that helps you move normally. There is no known direct cause of Parkinson’s. One theory is that it may be hereditary. Other theories say exposure to pesticides and living in rural communities may cause it.
The National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS) reports that men are 50 percent more likely than women to develop the disease. Researchers have not found the exact reasons for this statistic.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s are gradual and sometimes unnoticeable early in the disease. Common signs include:
- tremors (may start on one side of the body and eventually move to both sides)
- loss of balance
- inability to move from muscle opposition
- spontaneous, uncontrollable movements (bradykinesia)
Parkinson’s disease is classified in stages, ranging from one to five. Stage five is the most advanced and debilitating stage. Advanced stages may increase the risk for health complications that reduce lifespan.
You Asked, We Answered
- Why did it take so long for the diagnosis?- Alice R.
Parkinson's disease is essentially a clinical diagnosis; meaning that a physician will make this diagnosis based on several clinical features seen. There is no definitive medical test that can be performed on a patient. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease include tremor, slowness of movement, stiffness, and balance problems. However, the presentation and progression of these symptoms vary widely from patient to patient. As well, the initial presentation is often subtle and can be ascribed to other conditions. Some people think their symptoms are due to normal aging, which may delay presentation to the doctor. Another common finding in patients with Parkinson's disease is "masked facies" or an expressionless face, which often gets mistaken for depression. If there is concern that someone is developing Parkinson's disease, they should be seen by a neurologist for a clinical exam to help establish the diagnosis.- The Healthline Medical Team
Falls are a common secondary symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The risk of falling is greater in Stages IV and V. In these stages you may not be able to stand or walk on your own. Patients within these stages are prone to broken bones and concussions, but severe falls can be dangerous. A serious fall can reduce a patient’s life expectancy. It may even be fatal.
The NCBI reports that certain related complications can directly affect longevity in patients. These include:
- aspiration (accidentally breathing in food or foreign objects)
- deep vein thrombosis (deep clots that can block blood vessels)
- pulmonary embolism (arterial blockage in the lungs)
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) says that related complications don’t necessarily shorten lifespan. This is because some people develop these complications even without Parkinson’s.
Age is another factor in the diagnosis and outlook for Parkinson’s disease. According to the NINDS, the majority of patients develop the disorder after age 60. Age can also make you more prone to falls and certain health diseases. Such risks can increase for older Parkinson’s patients.
Women have a reduced risk for getting Parkinson’s. PDF also says that female patients tend to live longer with the disorder than men.
However, age can play a factor regardless of gender. Female patients who are over 60 may not fare as well as younger women diagnosed with the disease.
Life expectancy has increased dramatically due to advances in treatment. Without treatment, your outlook may be affected. A lack of healthcare may also be to blame. Medications and occupational therapy are especially helpful in the earliest stages of the disease. These treatments can potentially prevent further progression.
If you wait too long for a diagnosis, you may miss out on potentially life-saving measures. Early intervention can also prevent related health complications later on.
Life expectancy for Parkinson’s patients is often about the same as for the general population. One study found that patients who lived for ten years after diagnosis had the same life expectancy as those who didn’t have the disease. The same study found that people who lived with the disorder for 15 or 20 years had only a slightly shorter life expectancy than those without the disease.
Early detection is the key to preventing complications that can shorten your life. If you suspect you may have Parkinson’s disease, see your doctor right away.