One single concussion increases Parkinson's risk by more than 50%, study warns

A traumatic brain injury can result from any kind of blow or penetrating injury to the head

The study, which analyzed information from more than 320,000 USA veterans, found that those who'd experienced a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), often called a concussion, were 56 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's than those who'd never had a concussion. Parkinson's is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system.

A new study of hundreds of thousands of US armed forces veterans concludes that banging your head severely enough to lose consciousness can dramatically increase the risk of Parkinson's, the brain disease marked by tremors, slow movements, balance problems and difficulty walking.

The research, which was published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, found a strong connection between traumatic brain injuries such as concussions and a heightened risk of Parkinson's, regardless of the severity of the injuries.

In the study, a moderate to severe TBI was defined as a loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes, adjustment of consciousness of more than 24 hours or amnesia for more than 24 hours.

Mild traumatic brain injury was defined as loss of consciousness for zero to 30 minutes, adjustment of consciousness of a moment to 24 hours or amnesia for zero to 24 hours.

During the follow-up period, which took an average of 4.6 years, 1,462 of the veterans received a Parkinson's disease diagnosis.

The risk for those with a mild TBI (concussion) was 56 percent higher, and for those with moderate to severe TBIs, the risk was 83 percent greater, the findings showed.

"While the participants had all served in the active military, many if not most of the traumatic brain injuries had been acquired during civilian life", senior study author Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the VA said in a news release.

Gardner said it's possible that traumatic brain injuries could cause abnormal proteins to accumulate in the brain. "Many have suspected that his head injuries contributed to his Parkinson's disease, but it's impossible to say for sure", said Gardner.

"Even in this study, the vast majority of veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) did not develop Parkinson's", she said. The same may be true of alcohol use and other factors that might increase the risk of Parkinson's disease, he said. Very few of the veterans, whether they'd had a traumatic brain injury or not, had Parkinson's disease: "no more than three-quarters of 1%", he said.

"Our research looked at a very large population of United States veterans who had experienced either a mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury in an effort to find an answer to whether a mild traumatic brain injury can put someone at risk", they said.

Professor David Dexter, deputy research director at the charity Parkinson's United Kingdom, said: "Several studies over the years have highlighted head trauma as being a risk factor for neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson's, and this larger study reinforces that evidence".

"If anyone is anxious", she said, "do a little bit better to live more healthily".

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