People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have a higher risk of seizures than those without PD. Having other disorders associated with seizures along with PD further increases seizure risks.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that affects nearly 1 million people in the United States. Though the main symptoms of PD are related to movement, the disorder can also have non-motor symptoms.

If you have PD, you could be at a higher risk of seizures.

This article explores the link between PD and seizures and symptoms to be aware of.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is a period of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. During a seizure, many nerve cells signal rapidly at the same time. This can cause involuntary movements, sensations, or behaviors.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which an individual has repeated seizures. About 5.1 million people in the United States have a history of epilepsy.

You’re diagnosed with epilepsy when you’ve had two or more seizures that aren’t provoked by alcohol or drug withdrawal, high fever, or high blood sugar.

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A 2018 study found that, compared to people without PD, individuals with PD had a higher risk of seizures. Having other disorders associated with seizures along with PD further increased seizure risks.

A 2020 study found that epilepsy was diagnosed about twice as frequently in people with PD as in the control group without PD. A history of stroke or traumatic brain injury raised the risk even more.

How does Parkinson’s contribute to seizures?

Researchers have observed higher rates of epilepsy among people with PD. Although studies have identified some possible physiological explanations for the link, there’s still no definitive conclusion about why PD increases the risk of epilepsy.

A 2021 review notes that, while additional research is needed, some aspects of PD may contribute to seizures. These involve the effects of the protein alpha-synuclein and the impact of PD on neurotransmitters in the brain.

Alpha-synuclein is a protein that builds up in the nerve cells of people with PD, creating Lewy bodies. This accumulation can cause harmful changes in nerve cells, including those impacting the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell.

PD is also associated with decreases in the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Changes in the levels of these chemical messengers may increase the likelihood of seizures.

The review’s authors suggest that these aspects of PD may lead to increased inflammation and nerve cell excitability that can contribute to a higher likelihood of seizures in people with PD. However, more research is needed.

Is there a connection between epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease?

Some research has also suggested a link between epilepsy and developing PD. For example, a 2022 study found an association between epilepsy and the development of PD. Another 2023 study found a link between taking commonly prescribed epilepsy drugs and PD.

However, as with PD and seizures, the potential mechanism behind the link between PD and epilepsy remains unknown at this time.

Symptoms of epilepsy and PD are both treatable with daily medication. Surgery may also be beneficial.

If you are living with epilepsy and PD, be sure to seek support from your healthcare team. They can recommend a daily medication regimen and help you if you have any side effects or drug interactions.

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Many of the early symptoms of PD are subtle and come on slowly. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, some of the common early signs of PD include:

Late-stage symptoms

PD is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning neurological function gradually declines over time. As PD progresses, both motor and non-motor symptoms worsen.

It’s estimated that PD leads to disability in most people within 10 years. The progression of motor symptoms means that people with late-stage PD need assistance with daily tasks. They may need to use a wheelchair or be bedridden.

Other symptoms of late-stage PD include:

Neurological conditions can interfere with the typical functioning of the brain. Several other neurological conditions that can cause seizures include:

People with PD can be at an increased risk of seizures. The exact mechanism behind this isn’t known, but some aspects of the disease’s progression may contribute.

The early symptoms of PD can come on slowly and subtly. Symptoms gradually worsen over time as PD progresses.

Each person with PD is different, and the rate of progression and outlook can vary. Be sure to talk with your care team about your PD symptoms, treatment plan, and outlook.