Inhaling fumes from welding operations could trigger the early onset of Parkinson''s disease, according to results of a preliminary study.
Dr. Brad A. Racette and colleagues from Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, Mo., found that 15 professional welders with Parkinson''s developed signs of the disease an average of 15 years earlier than non-welders diagnosed with Parkinson''s.
"This research doesn''t prove that welding causes Parkinson''s disease," said Racette, "but it''s suspicious that the majority of these patients had a much younger age of onset."
The results of the study were published in this month''s issue of the journal Neurology.
Parkinson''s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system, characterized by tremors and impaired movement. It affects more than 1 million Americans.
A decrease in the production of dopamine, a critical brain chemical, is responsible for they symptoms of Parkinson''s disease.
About 80 percent of Parkinson''s disease patients have no family history of the disease, so scientists theorize that environmental factors also play a role in the development of the disease.
"We believe that a toxin in the fumes accelerates the disease onset in a person who may be at risk," said Racette. "Unfortunately, our data is too preliminary to tell us exactly what toxin is responsible or the mechanism of toxin action."
Racette said he and his colleagues theorize that they have identified a group of people that probably would have developed the disease eventually, but something in the welding environment caused them to develop the disease earlier.
The researchers compared the clinical symptoms of 15 professional welders with those of Parkinson''s disease patients who were not welders.
They found no difference between the welder''s symptoms and those of the non-welders, with one exception: the average age of onset for the welders was 40 years -- about 15 years younger than the average age of onset of the non-welders group.
"Future studies will help welders determine whether they should take precautionary measures," the researcher noted. "Although there is no definitive data, I would suggest that welders wear respirators to reduce inhaled fumes."
by Virginia Sutcliffe