New research published in the European Journal of Neurology indicates that an active sexual life is linked with lower disability and better quality of life in men with early Parkinson’s disease.
The analysis included a subgroup of 355 patients from the PRIAMO (PaRkinson dIseAse non MOtor symptoms) study, who were followed for two years.
The findings should prompt specialists who treat patients with Parkinson’s disease to periodically inquiry about their patients’ sexual life. Additional studies are needed to confirm the study’s findings in men and to explore whether such a relationship occurs in women with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. As the disease worsens, non-motor symptoms become more common. The symptoms usually emerge slowly. Early in the disease, the most obvious symptoms are shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking. Thinking and behavioral problems may also occur.
Dementia becomes common in the advanced stages of the disease. Depression and anxiety are also common, occurring in more than a third of people with PD. Other symptoms include sensory, sleep, and emotional problems. The main motor symptoms are collectively called “parkinsonism”, or a “parkinsonian syndrome”.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but is believed to involve both genetic and environmental factors. Those with a family member affected are more likely to get the disease themselves. There is also an increased risk in people exposed to certain pesticides and among those who have had prior head injuries, while there is a reduced risk in tobacco smokers and those who drink coffee or tea.
The motor symptoms of the disease result from the death of cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain. This results in not enough dopamine in this region of the brain. The cause of this cell death is poorly understood, but it involves the build-up of proteins into Lewy bodies in the neurons. Diagnosis of typical cases is mainly based on symptoms, with tests such as neuroimaging used to rule out other diseases.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment aims to improve the symptoms. Initial treatment is typically with the antiparkinson medication levodopa (L-DOPA), followed by dopamine agonists when levodopa becomes less effective.
As the disease progresses and neurons continue to be lost, these medications become less effective while at the same time they produce a complication marked by involuntary writhing movements. Diet and some forms of rehabilitation have shown some effectiveness at improving symptoms.
Surgery to place microelectrodes for deep brain stimulation has been used to reduce motor symptoms in severe cases where drugs are ineffective. Evidence for treatments for the non-movement-related symptoms of PD, such as sleep disturbances and emotional problems, is less strong.
In 2015, PD affected 6.2 million people and resulted in about 117,400 deaths globally. Parkinson’s disease typically occurs in people over the age of 60, of whom about one percent are affected. Males are more often affected than females at a ratio of around 3:2.
When it is seen in people before the age of 50, it is called early-onset PD. The average life expectancy following diagnosis is between 7 and 15 years. The disease is named after the English doctor James Parkinson, who published the first detailed description in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, in 1817.
Public awareness campaigns include World Parkinson’s Day (on the birthday of James Parkinson, 11 April) and the use of a red tulip as the symbol of the disease.