Heart attack survivors less likely to get Parkinson’s disease later in life

AARHUS, Denmark — There’s nothing good about suffering from a heart attack, but one study reveals a surprising benefit for patients. Heart attack survivors are less likely to get Parkinson’s disease later in life, research shows.

Scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark find that people who suffered a heart attack saw a 20 percent lower risk of developing the debilitating condition. The study also shows that heart attack patients have a 28 percent lower risk of getting secondary Parkinsonism, a condition which has similar symptoms.

Heart disease and Parkinson’s share many risk factors. Elderly men are at a higher risk while people who drink lots of coffee and are more physically active are at lower risk from both conditions. However, some of the classic risk factors for heart attacks such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type-2 diabetes are actually linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s.

The Danish-led research team found their findings “somewhat surprising.” Similarly, Parkinson’s disease may be one of the few diseases for which smoking reduces your risk, but that “does not make it good for your health,” the researchers add.

For the study, the authors looked at the records of 182,000 Danish people who had had a first-time heart attack between 1995 and 2016, and compared them with the records of 909,000 other Danes. The patients studied had an average age of 71, most (62 percent) of them were men and their health was followed up over 21 years.

The results were adjusted for a variety of factors known to raise the risk of a heart attack or Parkinson’s disease.

“We have previously found that following a heart attack, the risk of neurovascular complications such as clot-caused stroke or vascular dementia is markedly increased, so the finding of a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease was somewhat surprising,” says lead study author Dr. Jens Sundbøll of Aarhus University Hospital in a statement. “These findings indicate that the risk of Parkinson’s disease is at least not increased following a heart attack and should not be a worry for patients or a preventive focus for clinicians at follow-up.

“For physicians treating patients following a heart attack, these results indicate that cardiac rehabilitation should be focused on preventing ischemic stroke, vascular dementia and other cardiovascular diseases such as a new heart attack and heart failure, since the risk of Parkinson’s appears to be decreased in these patients, in comparison to the general population,” Sundbøll continues. “There are very few diseases in this world in which smoking decreases risk: Parkinson’s disease is one, and ulcerative colitis is another. Smoking increases the risk of the most common diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease and is definitely not good for your health.”

Parkinson’s disease, is a brain disorder which leads to a progressive loss of movement, slow or slurred speech and difficulty walking among sufferers. It has no cure and is associated with depression, memory loss and fatigue.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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