Is Parkinson's Disease hereditary?

11 answers | Last updated: Mar 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Father was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 11 years ago after a bad fall. My Mother had pronounced hand tremors for many years but her doctor was never able to confirm or deny weather she,too, had Parkinson's. Both are gone now. As I approach my 52nd birthday, I am very concerned about my chances of developing this horrible disease. What are my chances of escaping this fate?

Expert Answers

Graham A. Glass, MD, is the deputy director of the San Francisco Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Care Center (PADRECC) and an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He completed a fellowship in movement disorders at the Mayo Clinic.

The question as to whether Parkinson disease is hereditary is quite complicated. Researchers now think that about 7 or 8 percent of patients with PD have a direct genetic link. This is much more likely to be the case if your parents had onset of Parkinson disease in their 40s or younger. Otherwise it is much less likely. For the remaining people with Parkinson disease, we think that there may be certain genes that put them at an increased risk of developing PD, and that these genes may interact with other genes and environmental factors such as pesticide exposure to result in Parkinson disease. Unless your parents were tested for the specific genes associated with PD, it is virtually impossible to tell you how likely you are to get PD, but genetic cases of PD remain by far in the minority of cases.

Community Answers

Ladydawn answered...

Your chances are actually pretty good but that is not based upon genetics but the apparent fact that PD often skips a generation or more even when familial.

A few years ago the percentage of PwP of genetic origin was considered to be about 8% but in the last year such institutions as the Mayo Clinic have revised their estimates. I've read both 15% and 20% as a recent guestimate but even the majority of those cases seem to need the environmental triggers of idiopathic PD.

There is also a school of thought in more than one research institution which feels that essentially all PD cases are genetic and that with rare exceptions, there is no idiopathic PD.

Conversely, PD appears in many ways to be a form of accelerated aging which. There are also schools of thought which are exploring the idea that PD is an inflammatory disease.

At any rate, maintain your caffeine intake from whatever source. If you smoke you might want to consider which is worse, lung cancer, heart disease or PD.

Read about the precursor symptoms. I don't mean the early symptoms which send you to the doctor for a diagnosis but the symptoms which appear to have no relationship to PD. Even a partial loss of sense of smell (you might notice that it affects your sense of taste because of the affiliation) depression, sleep issues, leg drag, change in handwriting, if you are a woman you might have prolonged pain in the neck or shoulders. None of these were ever seen to be related to PD but now they are considered symptoms which can begin years before the major loss of dopamine and norepinephrine neurons.

Of course, they could be just what they are, but with your family history, it is important for your doctors to be aware.

Consider that this is a good time to adjust your diet to a more Mediterranean style diet; to begin an exercise program the stresses not only strength (I'm a great believer in that because of the issues I have seen in some PD patients who don't) but range of motion, flexibility and balance. Yoga is a great form of exercise and so in aquatherapy. And dancing.

My husband has PD and I speak from both good and bad experience.

Momjob2 answered...

I agree with Lady Dawn..she knows of what she speaks.
I have had Parkinson's for going on 6 years now. When I first was diagnosed they thought I had CBGD, which is literally a "death sentence". When it was found that I had Parkinson's I was actually "relieved". (CBGD would have me "pushing up daisies" long ago.) After some research, done by my sister-in-law, I found out that my father had three brothers that had the disease. Now I know why my father had such a "disfunctioning" those days there were no drugs to help slow the disease down. My brother called me on the phone last year and told me that he "also" has come down with Parkinson's. I've had the disease for 6 years. The drugs that are coming out now, thanks to research, slow the symptoms down measurably. As long as I keep up with my "treadmill" and "weight" workouts I'm doing pretty good. There are a lot of people that don't even suspect me having Parkinson' even thogh it "may" be inherited, it's not the end of the world. You just have to have a "don't quit" attitude, and a loving family that cares enough to try to understand what you're going through.

Footprints answered...

My identical twin brother has had Parkinson's for 14 years or so and has diskonesia; a side effect from the drugs he takes to manage his parkinsons. As we know identical twins start out from one egg and split into equal parts. Needless to say I don't have Parkinson's and can guarantee I will not get it. My twin brother is confined to his unit where he lives mostly and has cracked 9 ribs as well as his sturnam with the many falls caused by parkinsons, and its related drug side effects, over the recent past. In this light I would suggest that Parkinson's is not heredity but a condition of ones environment and how one deals with life on ones journey through the physical plane. I'm not a doctor but I do know Dr's have as many views as those who are not Dr's do. Relax, enjoy your life and be comfortable that if the parkinson's card appears in your life it would be more a part of your journey, thought processes and life experiences than anything you parent or parents may have experienced. PEACE!

A fellow caregiver answered...

As with many questions, the correct answer is, "It all depends..."

However, being unaware of any Parkinson history on either side of my family tree and after seeing how much and how many types of fungicide, pesticide, and herbicide had been stored in my parents' house and garage, I have to wonder if my father's food garden (tended almost 30 years) might have been a contributing source for both my parents' "Parkinsons."

By the way, after my mother began to refuse physical therapy, exercise, and walking, and then became sedentary, her symptoms went from "mild" to debilitating in a matter of a few months. Medication had no beneficial effect after that; the so-called "dopamine honeymoon" (almost 8 years on medication) apparently was over, too.

I'll leave it up to you to make any connections....

Karenlorenzo answered...

I'd also like to share this information about parkinson's disease, I wrote this article to make the people aware of the cause, symptoms and management of the disease especially in long term care facilities: . which may help one way or another.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mom had some sort of severe encephalitis (unknown cause) and Parkinson's Syndrome as a consequence in her early 30s. She couldn't stand the medicines, and slowly stopped using them, but replaced them with alcohol. She retired at age 45 (still with just the Syndrome and a bad case of alcoholism). I'm now 35 (male), I had my first severe arrhythmia episodes at age 23, my sense of smell has degraded significantly afterwards, and for about 10 years now, I cannot stand eating anything sweet (almost immediate acid aftertaste). My first leg tremors started about 8 years ago, but it was nothing a beer and a very hot bath couldn't fix (after a "hard office workday")... However, the progress was very quick. Today, I had to visit my dentist, and I had to ask for an additional assistants to keep my shoulders and head from twitching. Extreme fatigue is always present, and even the smallest physical effort (or a mental stress) turn my morning leg tremors into full body uncontrollable twitching and bending... I had to leave my full-time job and become a work-from-home freelancer 5 years ago. My speech is now "normal" only for about 3-4 hours after waking up (after that, my voice mail kicks in). I can't drive. I can't walk to my drs office and then sit in the chair for extended period of time (I tend to go too early, just in case I need to rest on my way to drs office). Walking back home is not an option (although it's just half a mile walking distance, it's a 5 mile expensive cab drive back due to complicated one-way streets in this city center). Every day I'm feeling less able. I'm quite in peace with the fact that I'm coming to a day when I'll just have to stop this suffering (I've already made a well calculated batch of my medications for the final cocktail). And no, there will be no other people who will be hurt by my suicide (I've distanced myself from anyone relevant years ago, while I could still hide this condition - and I get a new maid every two moths or so - who has no way of contacting living family members or friends). To those who think there might be a better solution... Well.. Do you know how hard it is in one day to go to dentist (I had to - I was in a really bad pain) and do anything else that same day? Since I came back, I haven't been able to get off the bed. I also can't sleep. Peeing in bottles, starving because the food is in the kitchen... I just want all this to end. My documents might say that I'm 35, but I feel like I'm long over the expiry date. :(

Booboosmommy answered...

I had 2 uncles that died from Parkinson's And one that was diagnosed about 1 yr ago .. My mother did not have it and neither did my grandparents ..1 uncle became completely paralyzed But he did not have the shaking He got slow ... He was on feeding tubes , catheter , lost his speech bed bound . While the other would shake but could talk and walk until the end .. My last uncle has the shakes But with therapy and drugs is doing wonderful I saw something about being exposed to pesticides .. And all 3 were field workers ..My sister and I worry .. I have Neuropathy and have a slight tremor when i tilt my wrist .. Scares me to death I do not have any of the classic signs so far Im almost 50 ..But it weighs heavy on me ..

Bubbls answered...

I am 49 years old and have MS i just learned that my Cousin on my dads side has Parkinson's, now that being said If MS is not hereditary and Parkinson's in NOT hereditary then how is it that the only common DNA link is from my father and his fathers side and they were brothers?

A fellow caregiver answered...

I'm not a doctor, however, it seems clear to me that there is some hereditary pre-disposition to PD that is clouded by statiticians, my father had PD in his fifties, y am in my sixties and diagnosed with PD, easy for me to recognize remembering the early phases of my father's PD, I always thought it was just a part of aging, now is my turn. I believe there is a genetic link or pre-disposition to this condition, too many cases of people with PD that have a parent or near relative with the condition (not a disease, a condition). .

Killerkitty answered...

To the person with PD, planning on suicide: It is your right and choice, but you are clearly suffering from a deep (tho justified) depression. Why do you cut yourself off from any possible support system? What do you fear? Being a burden? As a mother, grandmother, wife, sister, daughter and friend, I would be in agony if you were one of my circle. Please don't cut yourself off from those who care for and about you...Much of what you describe could be mitigated with a support system. Pretty much every one has SOMETHING difficult with which to struggle...most can sympathize with a fellow human suffering as well. Before you completely give up, I ask you to seek help for depression as well as support for your daily challenges.