Deep Sleep Detects Parkinson's

REM sleep behavior disorder is an early Parkinson's symptom

(RxWiki News) Over time, the toll that Parkinson's disease takes on the body and mind gets worse and worse. Although Parkinson's has no cure, finding it early can help patients in many ways. New research shows that early symptoms of the disease can be seen in dream sleep.

In a recent study, researchers found that Parkinson's patients showed signs of health problems as much as eight years before they were diagnosed. One of these signs was a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).

dailyRx Insight: REM sleep behavior disorder may be an early sign that you have Parkinson's.

For their study, Poul Jennum, professor of clinical neurophysiology at the Center for Healthy Ageing at the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues compared 13,700 Parkinson's patients to 53,600 healthy patients.

The researchers found that RBD was an early symptom of Parkinson's disease. However, according to Jennum, we still do not know if RBD is always an early sign for the disease.

REM - or Rapid Eye Movement - is a stage in our sleep cycle when we dream. Usually, our body shuts down muscle movement when we are in this stage so that we don't act out our dreams. However, people with RBD still have muscle activity during REM. This can cause arm or leg spasms as well as kicking, shouting, seizing, or jumping out of bed.

The National Institutes of Health estimate that half a million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson's disease, and other estimates state that figure may be much higher. Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that results from the death of neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, the cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine. The primary symptoms are a resting tremor (disappears when a patient goes to make a movement), rigidity (stiffness of muscles), bradykinesia (slowness of movment, often seen as a shuffling walk), and unstable posture which leads to frequent falls. As the disease progresses, patients often experience dementia, with changes in mood, cognition, behavior, and thoughts. Depression and anxiety are also common, and psychosis has been seen in late PD. Diagnosis is made from symptoms and neurological exams, but there is no lab test that will clearly identify the disease. If symptoms improve when patients are given drugs to treat Parkinson's disease, the diagnosis is usually confirmed. There is no cure, only treatment of symptom. The primary medications used are levodopa (Sinemet, Atamet), dopamine stimulators (Mirapex, Requip, Parlodel) and MAO-B inhibitors (Eldepryl, Deprenyl, Azilect). Intractable Parkinson's has been treated with a surgical technique called deep brain stimulation.

This study - which was conducted by researchers from the Center for Healthy Ageing, the Danish Center for Sleep Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Glostrup Hospital, Bispebjerg Hospital and the Danish Institute of Health Research - appears in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Neurology

Review Date: 
March 28, 2011