You are on page 1of 4

Epidemiology of Parkinsons disease

Prevalence quantifies the proportion of the total number of current subjects with PD in a population at a given time.
Crude prevalence of PD has been reported to vary from 15 (per 100,000 population) in China to 657 in Argentina in
door-to-door surveys,[2,3] and to vary from 100 to 250 in North America and Europe. The prevalence estimates
derived by this method are greater than those derived from other methods for comparable populations. Prevalence is
easily affected by socioeconomic factors and factors that affect survival rate.
Incidence is a better estimate frequency, and it quantifies the number of new subjects with PD occurring in a given
time period for a population of individuals at risk. It is relatively unaffected by factors affecting disease survival.
However, as the clinical manifestations of PD may be preceded by a long latent stage and have a slow clinical
progression, accurate measurements of the incidence of PD are relatively difficult. During the last 4 decades, the
crude annual incidence rates of PD ranged from 1.5 per 100,000 population in China in 1986 to 14.8 in Finland
through 1968 to 1970.[2,4] The variation may partly reflect study design differences, such as diagnostic criteria and
methods of case ascertainment.
Age distribution
Both prevalence and incidence of PD vary greatly across age groups. PD is less common before 50 years of age and
increases steadily with age thereafter up to the ninth decade. The decline among the most elderly seen in some
studies probably results from the very few people in this age group and may also reflect diagnostic and ascertaining
A recent study showed that the prevalence in Yonago City, Japan, increased from 80.6 (per 100,000 population) in
1980 to 117.9 in 1992, but that the age- and sex-adjusted prevalence decreased from 103.9 per 100,000 to 99.5.[5]
There was no significant difference in incidence between 1980 and 1992, although the age-adjusted incidence in
those under 55 years of age in 1992 was lower than in those under 55 in 1980. This study suggests that the
increased prevalence might be due mainly to the aging of the population.
Gender differences
Although gender-specific differences reveal more variability than association with increasing age, PD appears to be
slightly more common in men than in women in most studies, usually ranging from a 1.2:1 ratio up to a 1.5:1 ratio.
Ethnic distribution
The prevalence and incidence of PD vary in different countries, partly reflecting variations in racial composition of the
population surveyed. Generally, white people in Europe and North America have a higher prevalence, around 100 to
350 per 100,000 population. Asians in Japan and China and black Africans have lower rates, around one-fifth to onetenth of those in whites. However, age-adjusted PD prevalence was not significantly different in whites and blacks in
a door-to-door screening conducted in Mississippi, USA.[6]
Meanwhile, two studies reported that PD incidence in African-American men and women [7] and in Asian-American
men [8] was similar to rates for Americans of European origin. In addition, a door-to-door survey performed on the

islet of Kinmen, Taiwan, showed that the prevalence of PD was 119 per 100,000 for the total population, similar to
that of a white population and much higher than that of previous studies of Asian populations.[9] These observations
may reflect the effects of exposure to environmental factors rather than racial factors. Meanwhile, the confounding
effects of low case ascertainment and high selective mortality should be considered for PD prevalence estimates in
populations of African origin.
Time trends
With regard to time trends for the incidence of PD, a population-based study evaluating the incidence of PD in
Olmsted County, Minnesota from 1935 through 1988 showed that the annual incidence of PD increased from 9.2 per
100,000 for the interval from 1935 to 1944 to 16.3 per 100,000 for the interval from 1975 to 1984.[10] On the other
hand, Zhang and Roman performed a meta-analysis by adjusting reported data with a single standard population and
concluded that the prevalence and incidence of PD appear to have remained unchanged over the past 40 years.[11]
As there are very few longitudinal data for PD incidence and the data might lack consistency for diagnostic criteria
and study methods over time, at present it is difficult to reliably evaluate the changes in time trends of PD.
Geographic distribution
Geographic variations in the frequency of PD have been reported. For instance, in door-to-door surveys, crude
prevalence is 15 per 100,000 in China, 328 per 100,000 in India, 131 per 100,000 in Mississippi, USA, and 657 per
100,000 in Argentina.[2,3,6,12][13,14] A recent study examining geographic variation in reporting of PD mortality in
the United States showed strong north-to-south decreasing gradients for mortality rates for whites, regardless of
gender, but no clear west-to-east gradient was demonstrated.[15] Zhang and Roman found that the geographic
distribution of incidence appears to be consistent with information on prevalence.[11] This may suggest that
environmental factors play a Meanwhile, significant regional differences with northwest to southeast gradients in both
Canada and the United States have been reported. role in causing PD.
Although the mortality rate represents a unique population-based statistic and has been used to examine both the
time trends and the geographical distribution of PD, Phillips and colleagues found only 37% of patients had PD coded
as the underlying cause of death in all diagnosed during life as having PD.[16] The reason is that PD is not a primary
or direct cause of death.
Overall, in the United States, average annual age-adjusted PD mortality between 1962 and 1984 was estimated as 2
deaths per 100,000 for white men and 1 death per 100,000 for nonwhite men, 1 death per 100,000 for white women,
and less than 1 death per 100,000 for nonwhite women. Mortality increased for persons 75 years and older but
declined for those younger than age 70.[17] Generally, mortality rates for PD increased in the older age groups but
decreased for younger ages.
Although the life expectancy of PD patients has been prolonged, the life span of PD patients is still somewhat less
than that of the general population. Improved survival as the result of introducing effective symptomatic therapy and
decreased or delayed mortality from other disorders may partly account for the decreased mortality in younger
Tanner and colleagues reported that relative survival for people with PD diagnosed before age 60 is similar to that for
the general population, but relative survival is less than expected for those who are older at diagnosis.[18] A study

examining prognosis of PD patients in Japan showed that the most common cause of death for all patients,
regardless of age, was pneumonia.[19] This suggests that in addition to providing improved antiparkinsonian therapy
to patients, PD-related conditions such as pneumonia should also be treated more aggressively.
Risk factors
Although the cause or causes of PD remain obscure, a number of factors have been associated with increased or
decreased risk of PD Table 1 and Table 2. Demographic factors such as age, gender, and racial origin are associated
with an increased risk of PD. Family history has been implicated as a significant risk factor for PD in several large
epidemiological studies, and the estimated prevalence of positive family history ranges from 5% to 40%.[20]
All familial PD is not necessarily genetic, for families share the same environment. Several studies suggested that
environmental factors play an important role in the cause of PD. For instance, in some families several members with
widely different ages developed PD within a short period of time.[21] The largest twin study to date showed that
genetic factors appear to be important when disease begins at or before 50 years of age.[22] Although twin studies
indicate that genetic factors do not play a major role in causing typical PD, studies of several large kindred with PD or
a parkinsonian syndrome have confirmed the role played by different genes such as -synuclein and parkin.
While head injury, emotional stress, and premorbid personality have been linked to PD in numerous reports, the
associations between these factors and PD are controversial because of the difficulties of recall bias, accuracy of
diagnosis, and long duration of time between injury and onset of PD. A number of studies reported that different
lifestyle elements such as rural living, farming activity, or well-water drinking may act as risk factors for PD. So far
reports on pesticide exposure show either no convincing correlation or an increased risk of developing PD. Reports
on heavy metals have been conflicting. Further studies are required in these areas.
Interestingly, a recent prospective longitudinal study involving 8004 subjects over 30 years of follow-up found a
significant inverse relation between the incidence of PD and higher coffee and caffeine consumption with a doseresponse relationship.[23] Those who did not drink coffee had a fivefold greater risk when compared with those who
drank 28 ounces or more coffee a day. The effect persisted even after the results were adjusted for cigarette
smoking. This study revealed that other nutrients in coffee, including niacin, were unrelated to PD incidence, and it
suggests that the mechanism is related to caffeine intake and not to other nutrients contained in coffee.
Infectious agents were considered as a possible cause for PD because encephalitis lethargica often preceded
parkinsonism during the influenza pandemic of the early 1920s. A number of studies reported that some infectious
agents or diseases, such as HIV, Japanese B encephalitis, coxackie B, influenza B, herpes simplex, measles,
mumps, diphtheria, croup, or rheumatic fever, might be linked to postinfectious parkinsonism either acutely or as a
long-term complication. Some researchers suggest that exposure to an influenza virus in the fetus or childhood might
predispose one to PD in adulthood.[24]
Recently, a study of occupational risk factors for PD in British Columbia found school teachers and those in healthcare service occupations have significantly increased risk for PD, and suggested this observation might reflect higher
exposure to viral respiratory tract infections circulating in school and health-care facilities.[25] However, referral bias
and recall bias could not be ruled out entirely in this study since the sample was based on population attending a
specialty referral clinic. Further studies with more extensive and more direct measures of exposure to respiratory tract
illness are being undertaken to substantiate the findings.

There are several reasons that can account for the under-diagnosis and late diagnosis of PD in
a) the lack of public awareness
The lack of awareness of PD among the public has been briefly discussed previously. Many people
are not well informed about the early symptoms. As there is hardly any publicity on PD in the mass
media, this remains one of the less recognized diseases in Malaysia.
b) the lack of neurological services
The shortage of neurologists is a major problem in Malaysia. There is roughly one neurologist for
each million population. To complicate the situation, there is an uneven distribution of such
specialists in Malaysia about 96% of them are currently working in West Malaysia. Even in West
Malaysia, about 90% of them are serving in the Klang Valley. Consequently, most Parkinsons
patients are first seen by general practitioners who may not be familiar with the diagnosis of PD.
c) the characteristics of PD itself
There are several peculiar characteristics of PD that hamper the early diagnosis. This diagnostic
difficulty is compounded by the general lack of awareness of PD among both the public and medical
personnel in Malaysia.
i) The insidious nature of the onset of PD
The early symptoms of PD start very slowly and in a silent manner. Consequently, many patients
themselves do not realize the onset of illness. Occasionally, some observant spouses are the first to
notice the slowness of movement without knowing the exact cause. Some of my patients wives
commented that their husbands could no longer catch up with them while walking at the
supermarkets. Prior to that, it was their husbands who walked in front of them, leaving their wives
and children behind! Some family members and friends may notice that the patients voice has
become softer and slurred during daily conversation.