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Do Parkinson's Symptoms Differ in Men and Women?

By April 24, 2009

Most studies of Parkinson's disease suggest that men are more likely to get PD than women. But what happens to men and women after PD begins? Does the disease affect men and women differently once they have PD? As far as I can see there have been only a few studies on this issue but the available information is interesting. Apparently motor symptoms tend to be slightly less severe in women than in men but women experience more frequent dyskinesias or bad reactions to PD medications. A study by Haaxma and colleagues published in 2007 found that women tended to be older than men at symptom onset and more often had a tremor dominant form of PD. Most interesting however was that these scientists used a neuroimaging technique SPECT to investigate dopamine activity in brains of male and female persons with PD.

Women had higher levels of ‘striatal dopamine binding’ than men when the disease was first diagnosed. ‘Striatal dopamine binding’ simply means that women had more and better dopamine activity in their brains than did men when they were diagnosed with PD. In short, when women experience their first motor symptoms of PD their brains have a larger pool of effective dopamine receptors than do men when they are first diagnosed. The authors of the study suggest that female hormones like estrogen exert a protective effect for dopamine receptors. The authors also reported that the age of onset of symptoms in women was associated with indicators of estrogen status—things like age of menopause, number of children and duration of fertile life span. So perhaps estrogen activity helps to protect against the disease or delay its onset for women but once it appears the scientists found that the disease kills off the dopamine cells at similar rates in men and women. Presumably estrogen activity declines in women who get PD and once estrogen levels are low estrogen can no longer protect against the disease.

Source: Charlotte A Haaxma, Bastiaan R Bloem, George F Borm, Wim J G Oyen, Klaus L Leenders, Silvia Eshuis, Jan Booij, Dean E Dluzen, Martin W I M Horstink; Gender differences in Parkinson’s disease; J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2007;78:819–824.

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