Research tells us that more men are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease than women. But what do we know about how they experience symptoms and progression of the disease?
Earlier this month, a paper exploring some of these differences between men and women was published in the journal Movement Disorders. Parkinson’s is a highly variable disease, and understanding how it uniquely affects different genders could help doctors provide individualized care and researchers plan more efficient clinical trials.
Smaller studies have been done to start to understand these differences, but investigators led by Hirotaka Iwaki, MD, PhD at the National Institutes of Health, wanted to explore them at a larger scale. Data from two studies sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) — Fox Insight and the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) — were critical to this study.
Investigators looked at data from 408 participants in our landmark PPMI study and 11 other in-clinic studies. Their analysis showed that women with Parkinson’s had a higher risk of developing dyskinesia (uncontrolled, involuntary movements) than men. This aligns with previous research, but the reason why is not fully understood — although higher dosages of levodopa may play a role. For example, women generally weigh less than men but may be on the same dosage of levodopa.
While exploring difficulties carrying out daily activities such as getting dressed and eating, investigators found that women progressed slower than men. Women were also less likely to develop cognitive symptoms over time when compared with male patients. Scientists can look at the biology across these differences to understand more about the disease process.
And when the investigators looked at data from 25,307 participants in Fox Insight — our online clinical study containing the largest cohort of patient-reported outcomes in Parkinson’s research — they found the results were mostly consistent.
These findings could help researchers select the right participants for studies and develop tools to measure disease progression. For example, a trial of a cognitive impairment therapy may enroll more men, and scales for dyskinesia may have more use in women than men earlier in the disease course.
The results also demonstrate the urgent need for people of all genders and backgrounds to participate in Parkinson’s research. More research could help scientists better understand the nuances and variability of disease among men, women and all members of the Parkinson’s community — and ultimately get us closer to new ways to treat it.
Interested in participating in online research? Join Fox Insight, MJFF’s online clinical study where people with and without Parkinson's share information that could transform the search for better treatments. Register at foxinsight.org. And stay up-to-date on PPMI at michaeljfox.org/ppmi.