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Rare Sleep Disorder Linked with the Chance of Developing Parkinson’s

A review of research into the development of Parkinson’s and its connection with a rare sleep disorder has produced some surprising results. Dr Michael Howell, a neurology professor at the University of Minnesota has suggested that a rare sleep disorder, known as rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) could be a precursor to developing Parkinson’s disease or other neurological illnesses.

RBD is thought to affect 35 million people worldwide

Approximately 50% of people who have RBD are likely to develop some neurological disorder within 10 years of receiving a diagnosis, with almost everyone who has RBD developing a neurological condition at some point in their life. The main symptom of this sleep disorder is moving around during the rapid eye movement period of sleep, the time when our muscles are normally paralysed, with sufferers describing vivid dreams which they often act out. Their movements may range from minor movements of the hands to actually punching or kicking.

Based on finding from over 500 prior studies

In his study, which was published on April 13th in the journal JAMA Neurology, Howell says that being diagnosed with RBD means that you’ll almost certainly develop Parkinson’s or something similar. His conclusions are based on assessing research from over 500 previous studies on the subject, where he found that between 81 and 90% of people diagnosed with RBD developed some kind of degenerative brain condition. As diseases such as Parkinson’s are caused by the breakdown of alpha-synuclein proteins in the brain, Howell suggests that this same breakdown may occur in RBD, and as such, it offers an ‘early warning system’ for future development of Parkinson’s. He believes that this is an important indicator, as it could help scientists to treat the early stages of Parkinson’s; while RBD is not curable, it can be treated by giving sufferers large doses of melatonin or low doses of clonazepam which is usually prescribed to treat anxiety.

At the moment, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but the disease can be controlled with drugs or with deep-brain stimulation, an experimental therapy which has offered a high degree of relief for some Parkinson’s sufferers.

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