People who experience restless sleep may be at an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease or dementia in the future, a study has warned.
Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have found that patients with the Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) lack dopamine and have a form of inflammation of the brain.
This means that they are at risk of developing Parkinson's disease or dementia when they grow older, they said.
The researchers studied the condition of the dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain and cells that participate in the brain's immune system in people suffering from RBD sleep disorder.
The study, published in The Lancet Neurology journal, shows that patients suffering from RBD have a risk of developing Parkinson's disease or dementia in the future, because they already suffer from a lack of dopamine in the brain.
Parkinson's disease occurs precisely because the group of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine stop working.
The RBD sleep disorder is characterised by disturbances in the part of sleep where dreams take place.
Healthy people are relaxed and lie still during dream sleep, while people suffering from RBD live out their dreams so that while sleeping they can hit out, kick and shout.
"These patients have an inflammation of the brain in the area where the dopamine-producing nerve cells are found," said Morten Gersel Stokholm from Aarhus University.
This is completely new knowledge, as researchers have not previously demonstrated that there is a form of inflammation of the brain in patients who are at risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
"With this study, we have gained new knowledge about the disease processes in the brain in the early initial stages of the disease development," said Stokholm.
"The idea is for this knowledge to be used to determine which patients with the sleep disorder will later develop Parkinson's disease.
"At the same time, this is also knowledge that can help to develop drugs which can stop or slow the development of the diseases," said Stokholm.
Parkinson's disease is a chronic condition that continues to worsen over time. Symptoms are slow movements, often with shaking, together with muscular rigidity.
The disease is somewhat more common in men than in women. Parkinson's disease occurs because the brain lacks dopamine. It is primarily adults who are affected, and the first signs most often appear between the ages of 50-70.
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