There is no correlation between Parkinson's disease and heart disease. In fact, a recent study indicates that Parkinson's patients have a lower prevalence of heart disease.
"The peak age for developing Parkinson's is between 50 and 70 years of age, yet these patients have remarkable cardiovascular health, even though this is also a peak time for stroke and heart attack," said Dr Xuemei Huang of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, lead author of a recent study on Parkinson's disease. "I did a search on this topic and found some studies in the literature to support my hunch that yes, Parkinson's patients do seem to have lower prevalence of heart disease and stroke." But not for those who took Permax.
Olson took Permax for two years. "It wasn't doing any good so my doctor switched me to Mirapex," he says. But just a few years later, Olson had open-heart surgery and five bypass grafts.
"I didn't even know I had a heart problem because it could have been masked by Parkinson's. But when I started taking Permax I felt that the disease was wearing me out and I was in pretty bad shape so I had to go on permanent disability retirement in 1998," he says. (Olson will be 65 this year - he wasn't prepared for such an early retirement.)
"I was dragging my butt around and I was constantly tired. When we went to the mall I would have to sit down on every bench. When I finally got off Permax, in October 1999, I had more energy and generally felt better. Then my heart valve problem was diagnosed and it came as quite a shock, to say the least. But even more of a shock was when the cardiologist told me that I also had pulmonary fibrosis, diagnosed just one month later.
"I talked to my cardiologist and he suggested that Permax could be to blame for my heart disease. I have the exact side effects this drug is alleged to cause - valvular heart disease and pulmonary fibrosis. He also suggested that I should try to get compensation for it - from the makers of Permax.
My Parkinson's disease is now on a plateau - it hasn't changed since 2005 and that is good news. But now the big question is my heart. My concern is this: who is going to pick up the bill when I need my valve replaced? The drug company should be paying."
Permax, known as pergolide, works by affecting the level of dopamine in the central nervous system; it is not a cure for Parkinson's disease. In 2003, Eli Lilly, the maker of Permax, reported that cases of cardiac valvulopathy were seen in patients receiving the drug. Since then, the warnings section of the US package insert for Permax has been modified. It said that in some cases, symptoms of cardiac valvulopathy improved after Permax was discontinued. For Parkinson's patients such as Harley Olson, they just got worse.