Will My Children Inherit Parkinson's Disease from Me?

Man welcoming his children and granddaughter. Credit: Huntstock / Getty Images

Question: Will my children inherit Parkinson's disease from me?

Answer: Probably not. Most cases of Parkinson's disease don't have any known cause. While there are forms of the condition that seem to run in families, these account for a small percentage of all Parkinson's cases — perhaps about 5% to 10% in all.

Family History in Parkinson's Disease

Genetics very likely plays a role in all types of Parkinson's disease.

However, in most cases, while having specific combinations of genes increases your risk of the condition, those genes don't mean you'll inevitably develop Parkinson's.

Around 15% to 25% of those living with Parkinson's have a family history of the condition — they know of a relative who also has or had Parkinson's. People with one or more relatives who have the condition are at slightly higher risk for Parkinson's, but they're not at all guaranteed to get the disease.

Conversely, if you have Parkinson's disease, it does not mean that any of your children or grandchildren will get the disease. It merely indicates their risk for getting the disease is slightly higher than for people in families without the condition as part of their family medical history.

So while you may pass on genes that increase the risk for Parkinson's disease to your children and grandchildren, there are many other factors involved, and the odds are they won't ever develop the condition.

Gene Mutations that Cause Parkinson's

There are forms of Parkinson's disease that are influenced by genetic defects that appear to run in families. Most often these are "early-onset" forms of Parkinson's, where the disease begins earlier in life than usual. Researchers have identified several specific gene mutations that seem to lead to Parkinson's disease.

Families with one of these genes tend to include many people who are affected by the condition. However, inherited forms of Parkinson's disease account for fewer than 10% of all cases, researchers estimate.

Not even all "early-onset" cases of Parkinson's disease are inherited. For some people with early-onset Parkinson's, there's no family history and no known genetic link.

The Bottom Line

There's still quite a lot we don't know about why people get Parkinson's disease. There are many risk factors involved, one of which is genetics. However, having the "right" genes for Parkinson's disease appears to raise most people's risk for the condition only slightly.

Therefore, just because you have Parkinson's disease, it doesn't mean (in most cases) that your children and grandchildren are destined to get the disease, too.

Sources:

National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth. Parkinson's Disease fact sheet. Accessed Feb. 28, 2016.

Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. (eds) Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management: Second Edition Edited by 2008 Demos Medical Publishing.

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