Heart Disease and Parkinson’s

Though Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a mainly a movement disorder, it can affect many other areas of the body. Research has shown that those living with PD are at an increased risk of developing heart disease.1,2

Heart conditions linked to PD

PD can have a major impact of the heart and blood vessels. This increases the risk of many common heart problems.1,2

Heart attack

When plaque builds up in the blood vessels that supply the heart (coronary arteries), it can block blood flow. The areas of the heart that normally receive that blood will not be able to function well. This causes chest pain and often permanent heart damage.1,2

Arrhythmias

An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. PD can make the heart beat too slow (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia), or in an irregular pattern.1,2

Ischemic stroke

A stroke occurs when an area of the brain cannot properly work. In ischemic strokes, this is caused by decreased blood flow. Arrythmias like atrial fibrillation can create blood clots in the heart. These blood clots can travel to the brain and get stuck in an artery, blocking blood flow and causing stroke symptoms.1,2

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart is damaged and cannot pump blood well. This blood backs up, or "congests,” the heart and sometimes the lungs. This can cause leg swelling, difficulty breathing, and high blood pressure.1,2

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) refers to buildup of plaque in the arteries that feed the heart. This can cause chest pain (angina) and can progress to a heart attack. PD does not directly cause CAD.1,2

However, those living with PD are at an increased risk of CAD. Experts do not yet understand why this is. Both CAD and PD involve inflammation. Some researchers believe this may be the connection between the 2 conditions.1,2

Why does PD increase the risk?

The nervous system refers to the nerves in the body and how they work together. Our bodies have 2 kinds of nervous systems, autonomic and somatic. The somatic nervous system includes the nerves that we can control, like those that help move our muscles. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the things that happen without us thinking about them.3

PD causes damage to nerves in the brain that control movement. That same damage can occur to other parts of the brain, affecting the ANS. In PD, this can look like arrythmias and orthostatic hypotension.3

When we move from laying down to sitting or from sitting to standing, gravity pulls blood down to our feet. The body uses the ANS to prevent low blood pressure when this occurs. Orthostatic hypotension, or big drops in blood pressure when changing positions, happens when the ANS is not able to do its job.3

The ANS also controls our heart rate. When it is not working properly, it does not send the right signals to the heart. This can result in a heart rate that is too fast, too slow, or irregular. This can decrease the amount of blood reaching the brain and body.3

How to keep your heart healthy

Heart health is important for everyone, but it may be extra important for those living with PD. Here are a few things that can help keep your heart in better health:4

  • Stay physically active. Aim for at least 150 minutes of activity per week.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Include heart-healthy foods in your diet like fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods.
  • Avoid saturated fats and high-salt foods.
  • Manage diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol with the help of your doctor.

If you have any questions about your heart health, speak to your doctor.

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Written by: Leah Steinberg | Last reviewed: March 2022