- Published on 17 March 2022
Hearing loss and epilepsy are early features of the progressive neurological condition Parkinson's disease, say London researchers who analysed electronic primary healthcare records from over a million people living in the capital between 1990 and 2018.
This is the most diverse UK study to date, claims the team at Queen Mary University, London (QMUL), who have explored early symptoms and risk factors for Parkinson’s in a study funded by Bart's Charity and published in the journal JAMA Neurology.
The researchers found that known symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including tremor and memory problems, can appear up to ten and five years before diagnosis respectively, also finding two new early features of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and hearing loss. They were then able to replicate these findings using additional data from the UK Biobank.
Ethnic and social diversity of new study
The diversity of the study is heavily underlined by the researchers, who point out that previous studies unearthing early signs of Parkinson's focused on largely white, well-off populations. This new study dug into data from East London, which not only has one of the highest proportions of Black, South Asian and mixed/other ethnic groups—comprising around 45% of its make-up, in comparison to 14% in the rest of the UK— but also some of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK; 80% of patients included in the study were from low-income households.
GPs should take note
“Our results uncovered novel risk factors and early symptoms: epilepsy and hearing loss," said lead author Dr. Cristina Simonet. "It’s important that primary care practitioners are aware of these links and understand how early the symptoms of Parkinson’s can appear, so that patients can get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition,” she added.
Dr. Simonet's QMUL colleague and study co-author, Dr. Alastair Noyce, echoed the message about spotting early warning signs: "People see their GPs with symptoms but often don’t get a diagnosis until five to ten years after this. Tremor, for example, is one of the most recognisable symptoms of Parkinson’s – but was seen ten years before eventual diagnosis in our study. This is too long for patients to wait. If we’re able to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier, we have a real opportunity to intervene early and offer treatments that could improve quality of life for patients."