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The relationship between repetitive blows to the head (as in boxing) and parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease is well established. However, scientists don’t fully understand the relationship between American football and these conditions. A recent study found that playing American football increases a person’s risk of parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease by 61 percent.

Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study using data from 1,875 men enrolled in the Fox Insight study, in which participants completed online questionnaires regarding their health status. They collected data on aspects of football participation, including duration of play, highest level played, and age at first exposure. The analysis accounted for various factors, including age, education, medical history, body mass index, concussions, and family history of Parkinson’s disease.

They found that those who had played football were 61 percent more likely to report having parkinsonism or Parkinson’s disease than those who did not. Those who experienced higher levels of play (such as college or professional level) were nearly three times more likely to report being diagnosed with these conditions.

Parkinsonism is an umbrella term that describes a group of neurological disorders that share similar symptoms with Parkinson’s disease, including tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movement, and difficulties with balance and coordination. Parkinson’s disease is the primary cause of parkinsonism, driving approximately 80 percent of all cases.

These findings suggest that playing American football markedly increases the risk of parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease. However, this study does not prove causation but highlights a potential link between sports-related head injuries and long-term neurological consequences. Learn more about Parkinson’s disease in this episode featuring Dr. Giselle Petzinger.

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