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More Education, More Parkinson's Risk

Study: Highest Odds for Doctors; Lowest Odds for Construction Workers
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 21, 2005 -- There may be a strange connection between Parkinson's disease and high academic achievers, a new study shows.

The findings may have been enough for Roberta Frigerio, MD, and colleagues to do a double take. The highly educated group found that Parkinson's is more common among people with nine or more years of education, especially medical doctors.

But, they're not about to ditch their diplomas. No one should alter their life's plans due to this study, the doctors caution.

About Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a brain disease. Its cause isn't known. In Parkinson's, the brain falters in its ability to make dopamine, a brain chemical that helps direct motion. Patients may experience tremors, rigid muscles, and problems with balance and movement.

More than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. About a million Americans have Parkinson's disease, including three out of 100 people aged 60 and older.

In the new study, patients were about 71 years old when their Parkinson's symptoms began. That age is usually much closer to retirement than to school days.

Education and Parkinson's

Frigerio's team rounded up the names of everyone in Olmstead County, Minn., who developed Parkinson's disease from 1976-1995.

Why Olmstead County? It's home to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where many of the researchers work. Figaro worked on the study while on leave from Italy's University of Milano-Bicocca.

Information came from the medical records of about 200 local Parkinson's patients, some of whom also did phone interviews with the researchers.

Patients' education and careers were compared to people of similar background without Parkinson's disease.

Having nine or more years of schooling roughly doubled the odds of having Parkinson's. The findings on education were similar for men and women.

Careers and Parkinson's

Of all the careers studied, medical doctors had the highest odds of having Parkinson's disease.

They were more than three times as likely to have Parkinson's as construction workers, who had the lowest odds. Farmers, mechanics, and production workers also had low odds of Parkinson's.

The numbers weren't huge. There were 11 doctors with Parkinson's in the study.

Some people didn't do phone interviews, which could have limited the results, the researchers note. They add that other studies of Parkinson's and careers have shown mixed results.

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