Cardiovascular Disease and Parkinson's

People living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) are twice as likely as the general population to develop cardiovascular disease, and they have a 50% greater chance of dying from it. Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, includes conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to conditions such as:

  • Heart attack – when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked
  • Stroke – when blood flow to the brain gets blocked due to a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel bursts in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke)
  • Heart failure, or congestive heart failure – where the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should and the body’s need for blood and oxygen is compromised
  • Arrhythmia – an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which could be too slow (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia), or irregular, and may cause the heart to not pump enough blood to the body
  • Heart valve problems – problems with the valves include when the valves in the heart don’t open enough to allow blood to flow through (stenosis) and when the valve leaflets bulge or slip back into the upper chamber (mitral valve prolapse).1,2

Risk factors that increase risk of cardiovascular disease

Recent research showed that people with Parkinson’s who have a high or medium risk of cardiovascular disease tend to have more problems with walking and memory. While both cardiovascular disease and PD become more common as people get older, this study found that people with poorer cardiovascular health also had worse walking and memory problems, even in the early stages of PD. The study authors suggest that assessment and treatment of vascular health may help improve these patients’ PD symptoms as well.4,5

Ways to decrease risk of heart disease

As in the general population, heart disease in people with PD can be decreased by managing traditional risk factors:

  • Smoking cessation – According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the U.S. Smoking increases the risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis that can lead to heart disease and stroke.3
  • Treatment of high blood pressure – Approximately 90% of all Americans will develop hypertension, or high blood pressure, over their lifetime. Hypertension puts more stress on arteries and can cause damage over time.3
  • Treatment of high cholesterol – High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factor for heart disease. When too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is in the blood, it can build up in the artery walls and narrow the vessels that feed the heart and brain.3
  • Control of diabetesDiabetes can affect many major organs in the body, including the heart. Fortunately, diabetes is treatable and often preventable.3

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2017