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Why is pneumonia common for those with Parkinson’s Disease?

Unfortunately 70% of deaths for those with Parkinson’s Disease is due to pneumonia, this is the leading cause of death for those with PD. Pneumonia can be atypical or typical however both cause swelling or inflammation in the lungs making it difficult for oxygen to reach the blood. Atypical pneumonia is caused by bacteria or fungi or when stomach contents are inhaled into the lungs whereas typical pneumonia is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Some common symptoms include; dry or a mucus cough, fever, headache, muscle pain and chills.

So why are those with Parkinson’s Disease likely to get pneumonia? Swallowing dysfunction is a common symptom that affects those with PD leading to aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is when food, saliva, liquids or vomit are inhaled into the lungs instead of the oesophagus and stomach and for those with swallowing dysfunction, this can be quite a common reality. When these things are breathed into the lungs, infections and bacteria are formed, causing pneumonia.

For those with PD, getting aspiration pneumonia is serious, the mortality rate after the first incidence of aspiration pneumonia is 24% after the first month, 65% after 1 year and 92% after 5 years. Fortunately, there are treatments available to help manage swallowing dysfunction which can limit your risk of contracting aspiration pneumonia. These include strengthening the breathing muscles that are in charge of expiration, swallowing technique therapies, compensation techniques such as the chin-down posture and thickening the fluids that are consumed. For further information regarding these therapies contact your GP or related health practitioner.

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