Is there a link between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease?
Written by Kimberly Drake on April 23, 2021 — Fact checked by Alexandra Sanfins, Ph.D.
Although extremely rare, Parkinson’s-like symptoms have occurred in a few people with COVID-19. This phenomenon has researchers investigating whether there is a link between SARS-CoV-2 and Parkinson’s disease.
Share on PinterestResearchers have explored a potential link between Parkinson’s disease and the new coronavirus. David Trood/Getty Images
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have continued to search for information about how SARS-CoV-2 affects the body.
At this point, researchers and healthcare professionals know that the effects extend beyond the respiratory system. SARS-CoV-2 can impact other organs, including the heart, brain, kidneys, and skin.
In November 2020, an article published in The Lancet Neurology reported that up to 65% of people with COVID-19 have experienced hyposmia, a loss or change in their sense of smell, which is also a symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
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The same article reported three cases of people experiencing Parkinson’s-like symptoms after a SARS-CoV-2 infection, though they had no known risk factors for the condition.
These incidents have scientists questioning whether there is a link between SARS-CoV-2 and Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
In this Special Feature, we take a closer look at this phenomenon to investigate what scientists know about the possible association between Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition. Its symptoms appear slowly and progress as time goes on. Symptoms include shaking or tremors, stiffness, and difficulties with balance, walking, talking, and coordination.
Because the disease affects the brain, people with Parkinson’s also experience behavioral changes, memory problems, sleep issues, and fatigue.
The condition results from the impairment of the nerve cells responsible for controlling movement. Other factors thought to contribute include low dopamine or norepinephrine levels and possibly the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain. According to scientists, genetic and environmental factors appear to set off these changes, causing the disease.
A distinct condition is called parkinsonism. People with parkinsonism have symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, but the symptoms are somewhat atypical.
This condition often accompanies another disorder, and there are different forms, including vascular parkinsonism and drug-induced parkinsonism.