Am I At Risk For Parksinon's Disease?

Your Risk of Parkinson's Disease. GARO/PHANIE / Getty Images

You are wondering if you might get Parkinson’s Disease or you and your doctor suspect that you might have Parkinson’s Disease (PD). How did this happen to you? What caused this? What are the risk factors for getting PD?

The onset of PD is a multi-factorial process; that is, you need to have several risk factors to get PD. However, even if you have several of the known risk factors you may still not get PD.

Risk factors only increase your odds. They do not determine the outcome.

Thus gauging your risk for PD is not a science. So when you read about risk factors keep in mind that each risk factor is only a contributory element and even when combined they do not determine the outcome.

So what are those risk factors?


If you are 60 or over you are more likely to get PD. Seventy-five percent of all cases of PD begin after age 60 and incidence increases every decade after that up to about 80 years of age. If you do not have PD by age 80 your chances of getting it are small and are substantially lower than when they were when you were 70 or 60. Most people develop initial symptoms of PD in middle age. The idea is that dopamine production declines with age and you start to feel that decline in middle age. When the decline is steep and profound you get PD.


Men are slightly more at risk than women to get PD.

Nobody knows why men are more vulnerable to PD than women. It may be that the female hormone estrogen protects dopamine neurons to some extent.


If someone in your family -– a close blood relative for example -- has or had PD, then your chances of getting PD are slightly increased. Familial forms of PD suggest that certain genetic problems may contribute to the causes of PD.

An abnormality in one such gene, Parkin, may be a predictor of the onset of Parkinson’s at a young age (before age 50). Alpha-Synuclein is another gene implicated in PD. When damaged it contributes to abnormal clumping of dopamine cells (called Lewy bodies).


Excessive exposure to industrial toxic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides can increase the risk of developing PD. People who live in a rural agricultural area and used well water for drinking and cooking were found to have higher rates of PD, possibly because they were exposed to toxic chemicals in the form of pesticides.


Some evidence suggests that head trauma may increase your risk for PD presumably because the trauma damages dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Use of illicit drugs may enhance risk for PD because many of these drugs target the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. There is limited evidence that ethnicity influences risk for PD. African Americans and Asians are less likely to get PD than Caucasians. Nobody knows why these ethnic groups are less likely to get PD. It seems likely for example that rural African Americans were just as exposed to agricultural pesticides and toxins as white rural Americans-so the link between PD and ethnicity remains a mystery.

To sum up:

  • If you are over 60
  • Male
  • Have a family history of PD
  • Were exposed to environmental toxins
  • Caucasian

…you are more likely to get PD. But remember even if you have ALL these risk factors they may still not lead to PD. They are only risk factors, not determinate factors.


The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Parkinson's Disease Information Page. Accessed: December 16, 2008.

R. Pahwa and K.E. Lyons (Editors),Handbook of Parkinson’s Disease; 4th Edition, New York, Informa Healthcare Publishers, 2007.

WeMove. Parkinson's Disease Risk Factors and Protective Factors. Accessed: December 16, 2008. 

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