Is there a connection between stress and Parkinson’s disease?

Most neurology text books will state that stress seems to exacerbate Parkinson’s disease symptoms and persons with Parkinson’s disease often describe the worsening of their tremor when having to speak publicly or the worsening of dyskinesias while watching a suspenseful movie scene.

Close-up of old man's eyeIn spite of this observation there has not been a lot of research really examining the interplay of stress and the development or exacerbation of Parkinson’s.

We know that stress can have effects on the brain and in animals studies it has been shown to contribute to atrophy and reduced function of the nerves in the brain.

Stress reduction has been shown to be beneficial in multiple medical conditions – reducing blood pressure in persons with hypertension, skin lesions in persons with psoriasis, and blood sugars in persons with diabetes.

There was a recent study in multiple sclerosis that showed fewer new brain lesions when persons participated in an intensive stress reduction program.

It is not clear what role stress plays in Parkinson’s disease but Dr. Hiller’s goal is to gain more knowledge in this area by researching cortisol levels in persons with Parkinson’s disease with and without significant stress and eventually hopes to examine the effects of stress reduction on the psychological and physical functioning of persons with Parkinson’s disease.

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Amie Hiller, M.D. is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the 
OHSU Parkinson Center.