WEDNESDAY, Sept. 15, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Brain imaging may help identify sleep disorder patients at greatest risk for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson's disease, an international team of researchers has found.
Their study of people with rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder (IRBD) found that brain imaging tests can detect neurodegenerative disease-related brain abnormalities before a person develops noticeable symptoms.
Previous research has shown that IRBD of unknown cause may be an early predictor of neurodegenerative diseases in more than half of patients, but it hasn't been possible to identify which patients will develop these diseases.
Being able to identify IRBD patients at increased risk would lead to earlier treatment and improve understanding of the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases, according to Alex Iranzo de Riquer, of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, and colleagues.
At the start of the study, 43 patients with IRBD underwent two brain imaging tests -- dopamine transporter imaging and transcranial sonography.
Of the 27 patients whose imaging tests showed brain abnormalities associated with Parkinson's and a brain disease known as dementia with Lewy bodies, eight (30 percent) had developed a neurodegenerative disease when assessed 2-1/2 years later. Five had Parkinson's disease; two had dementia with Lewy bodies; and one had multiple system atrophy, a rare condition that affects movement, balance and other bodily functions.
The patients without brain abnormalities (and 70 percent of those with such abnormalities) remained disease-free at the end of the study.
The study findings were released online Sept. 14 in advance of publication in the November print issue of The Lancet Neurology.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about Parkinson's disease.