There may be a link between Parkinson’s disease and trauma. Scientists have investigated whether traumatic experiences can cause people to develop the condition.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a condition that causes people to experience several symptoms that worsen over time. Some of the first symptoms of PD are involuntary or unintended movements. These can include shaking, muscle stiffness, and changes to a person’s balance and coordination.

Cells in a person’s brain make a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate a person’s movements. People may develop Parkinson’s disease if these cells are lost.

Scientists do not yet know what causes the loss of nerve cells. They have explored whether trauma can make a person more likely to develop PD.

This article discusses whether traumatic experiences can cause Parkinson’s disease. It also discusses stress and PD, early signs and symptoms, and risk factors.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Black and white image of a male standing near a window with shadows and sun streaks on his faceShare on Pinterest
FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

Some research suggests that traumatic experiences can raise a person’s risk of developing PD. In a 2022 study, scientists in Israel looked at data to determine the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and PD. They compared medical data over 20 years from 8,336 people with PTSD to data from 8,336 people without PTSD.

The researchers found that men over 72 years old with PTSD showed an increased risk of PD. However, they did not investigate the exact relationship between PTSD and PD.

This study only looked at men with PTSD and PD. Another study from 2017 showed a link between PTSD and increased risk of PD for women.

Other researchers also investigated links between PTSD, PD, and traumatic brain injuries in 2020. Their research also showed an increased risk of PD among male veterans with PTSD.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease.

Early life stress may indirectly increase people’s risk of PD. Researchers analyzed historical and recent research into links between early life stress, depression, and PD.

They found that early life stresses may contribute to a person experiencing depression. People with depression may be more at risk of developing PD later in life. The researchers did note that depression may also be a symptom, as well as a cause, of PD.

Childhood trauma can also cause people to have health conditions later in life, including PD. Researchers investigated PD progression against personal health and history factors, including childhood trauma. They surveyed 712 people in a 2023 study.

They found that childhood trauma can cause some PD symptoms, such as mood changes, to be mildly more severe. However, they did note that the impact of trauma was less significant than other factors that affect PD severity, such as:

  • diet
  • exercise
  • social connection

Stress may aggravate the progression of PD. Researchers who analyzed studies of PD and stress found that stress can worsen certain PD symptoms, such as:

  • bradykinesia, or moving slowly
  • motor blocking, or not being able to move
  • muscle tremors

The researchers suggested that stress can damage the brain’s cells that synthesize the powerful neurotransmitter dopamine. This may make it harder for a person’s body to make and release dopamine. They also found that having more stressful life effects can increase a person’s risk of PD.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that stress may trigger the symptoms of conditions such as PD.

PD symptoms usually appear gradually and then worsen.

PD does not affect everyone the same way or at the same rate. Early warning signs and symptoms can be subtle and may include:

  • mild tremors, or shaking in a person’s hands, feet, or jaw
  • loss of grip strength
  • changes to a person’s gait or the way they walk
  • difficulty getting out of a chair
  • speaking too softly
  • having small, slow, or cramped handwriting

A person’s friends or family members may be the first to notice changes in someone with PD.

Learn more about the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Risk factors for PD include:

  • Age: A person’s risk increases significantly with age. The average age of onset for PD is 70 years old. In 2–10% of people with PD, the condition develops before the age of 50 years. This is called early onset PD.
  • Biological sex: Males are more likely than females to develop PD.
  • Pesticide exposure: People who live in areas with increased pesticide use have an increased risk of PD.
  • Family history of PD: People are more at risk of developing PD if they have one or more close relatives with PD. Scientists estimate that 15–25% of people with PD have a known relative with the condition.

Learn more about the risk factors for Parkinson’s disease.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about Parkinson’s disease.

What things exacerbate Parkinson’s disease?

Some PD medications may worsen certain PD symptoms, such as:

  • sleep issues
  • orthostatic hypotension, or dizziness when standing up
  • sexual dysfunction

Stress, depression, or PD medication may also cause problems with a person’s:

  • memory
  • attention
  • ability to plan and accomplish tasks

What is sudden worsening of Parkinson’s disease?

Sudden worsening of PD is when a person with advanced PD quickly deteriorates. Most people with PD have symptoms that develop slowly. However, people with late stage Parkinson’s disease (LSPD) can have symptoms that suddenly worsen over hours or days.

People with PD may also develop sudden complications that require urgent medical attention.

What slows Parkinson’s disease progression?

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, exercising for 2.5 hours per week can help slow the progression of PD. People should start exercising early in the course of PD with:

  • aerobic activity
  • strength training
  • flexibility training
  • training in physical agility, balance, and multitasking

Early life traumatic experiences may increase a person’s risk of developing PD.

People with PTSD may be more likely to develop PD. Early life stress may also indirectly make a person more at risk of developing PD.

Stress can also aggravate PD or make someone more likely to develop PD.

Individuals can speak with a healthcare professional about the risks of developing PD, as well as early symptoms to be aware of.