Saturday, September 02, 2023

What do Parkinson's patients actually die of?

My wife has had Parkinson's Disease (PD) for about 12 years now. Parkinson's is the second most common neurological disease (after Alzheimer's), and the most common movement disorder. Pretty much everyone knows someone who has, or had, PD. It's a "nasty little disease", as my wife says, but not actually fatal. You don't die of Parkinson's, you die with it, as the saying goes.

That said, Parkinson's does lead to a higher incidence of premature death, not so much in the first 5 years or so, but certainly later (an increased relative risk of 3.5 after 10 years). It is often associated with other co-morbidities, which may or may not be directly related, but also a significant proportion of patients with PD die suddenly, known in the trade as "sudden unexpected death in Parkinson's" or SUDPAR, from such causes as aspiration pneumonia, heart attacks, etc. There does not seem to have been too much conclusive research into this area of the disease.

According to the Parkinson's Foundation, the most likely causes of death for someone with PD are aspiration pneumonia (due to food and liquid going down the windpipe and causing an infection in the lungs) and falls (due to increased postural instability and other symptoms of the disease).

Other than these more directly-related causes of death, most people with Parkinson's actually die from the same causes as everyone else - heart conditions, cancer, stroke, etc.

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