New research highlights importance of cardiovascular health in Parkinson's

New research shows that people recently diagnosed with Parkinson's who are at high or medium risk of cardiovascular disease tend to have more problems with walking and memory.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all the diseases of the heart and circulatory system including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack and stroke.

Like Parkinson's, cardiovascular disease becomes more common as people get older.

The research is published in a free to access paper in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

What the researchers did

The research team studied 2909 people recently diagnosed with Parkinson's and found that:

  • More than 60% had a high (1 in 5) or medium (1 in 10) risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years.
  • These people tended to be older, and had worse walking and memory compared to those with lower risk.
  • Only 27% of these people were taking statins to reduce their risk of experiencing a vascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack.

What does this mean for people with Parkinson's?

Professor Donald Grosset, leader of the Tracking Parkinson's study and one of the authors of the study, explains:

"It's not surprising that many people living with Parkinson's also have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as both conditions get more common as we get older.

"But our study highlights the impact of living with both at the same time.

"People with poorer cardiovascular health had worse walking and memory even in the early stages of Parkinson's, so improving cardiovascular health may help these aspects of the condition.

"We were slightly surprised that so few people in the high and medium risk groups were taking statins, since they are proven to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

"We hope our findings will help to start a conversation about vascular health in Parkinson's, so that it can be assessed and, where appropriate, treated."

I'm concerned about my cardiovascular health. What should I do?

The first thing to do is make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse.

They can carry out an assessment using special computer software that can calculate your risk based on factors including things like age, blood pressure and family history of vascular disease.

If you are at medium or high vascular risk they will be able to discuss the best ways to reduce your risk. These include lifestyle changes to diet and exercise, and possibly medications like statins.

What are statins and should I be taking them?

Statins are a group of medicines that help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing blood cholesterol levels.

They may be recommended if you already have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or are at high or medium risk of developing it in the next 10 years.

As with any decision about medical treatment, taking statins is a personal choice and should be made following discussion with your GP or nurse.

The effect of statins for people with Parkinson's is an area of very active research.

Some studies have suggested that taking statins may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's and there is currently a clinical trial underway in the UK which is looking at whether statins may even be able to slow the progression of Parkinson's.