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People over 50 who suffer from anxiety may be up to twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as their peers without anxiety, a new analysis shows.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, examined data from primary care in the UK. The researchers compared a group of 109,435 people aged 50 and over who were diagnosed with a first episode of anxiety between 2008 and 2018 with a control group of 987,691 people without anxiety.

According to the researchers, 331 of the patients in the study who had been diagnosed with anxiety developed Parkinson’s over the course of the decade, and on average, patients became ill 4.9 years after their initial anxiety diagnosis.

After adjusting for age, lifestyle, mental health conditions and other factors, people with anxiety were still twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s as those without an anxiety diagnosis. Those affected were also more likely to develop Parkinson’s if they were male and belonged to higher socioeconomic groups.

Other factors were linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease: The researchers found that people with depression, sleep problems, fatigue, cognitive impairment, low blood pressure, tremors, stiffness, balance problems or constipation were more likely to develop the disease. People with dizziness, shoulder pain and urinary and erectile problems were less likely to develop Parkinson’s.

“Anxiety is not as well studied as other early signs of Parkinson’s disease,” Anette Schrag, professor of clinical neuroscience at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology and co-leader of the study, said in a press release. Further research should focus on anxiety, she said, in the hope of finding out how to better treat Parkinson’s in its earliest stages.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States, affecting as many as 1 million Americans, although numbers vary and misdiagnosis is common. The disease is most often diagnosed in people age 60 and older, the agency says, but up to 10 percent of people are diagnosed before age 50 and early signs can go unnoticed.

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