Know the Signs of Parkinson’s Disease

December 31, 2014

Parkinson's DiseaseIdentifying the symptoms and signs of Parkinson’s disease (PD) can be difficult as they can vary from person to person, and in the early stages they may be mild and go unnoticed, sometimes for years. However, it’s important to know the signs of Parkinson’s disease in a loved one or yourself, so that you can get proper medical attention as early as possible.

 Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. This chronic progressive disease is linked to decreased dopamine production in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra, affecting the neurons that control movement. Parkinson’s disease sets in when the neurons begin to die and the levels of dopamine in the brain decrease. As the levels of dopamine lowers a person has less and less ability to control their movements, body and emotions.

 Use this guide to help you take note of any symptoms you might recognize so that you can discuss them with your healthcare provider. Often symptoms begin on one side of the body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

Four Main Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

  • Tremors or shaking at rest – Twitching or shaking of limbs is a common early sign of PD. Slight shaking may appear in the thumb, finger, chin, lip, or legs.
  • Slowed movement – Also known as bradykinesia, Parkinson’s disease may, over time, slow movement and reduce the ability to move, making simple tasks time-consuming and difficult. It may become difficult to get out of a chair, your feet might drag as you walk and your steps may become shorter.
  • Rigid muscles – Stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause pain. This can occur in any part of the body, including the arms, legs or trunk.
  • Impaired posture and balance – Referred to as postural instability, your posture may become stooped, or you may experience balance problems. These symptoms often occur later in the progression of PD and may not be noticeable early on.

Secondary Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease may include:

  • Writing changes – Also known as micrographia, handwriting may become small and cramped, and writing can become increasingly difficult.
  • Loss of automatic movements – Parkinson’s disease may decrease the ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling (hypomimia is a loss of facial expression due to rigidity of facial muscles) or swinging your arms when you walk. An individual may no longer gesture when talking.
  • “Freezing” – This is a term used to describe when someone with PD appears to be stuck in place when attempting to walk as they are unable to control muscle movement.
  • Speech changes – An individual with Parkinson’s disease may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. His or her speech may be more monotone. A speech-language pathologist may be able to help improve some of these issues.
  • Tendency to fall backwards – Known as retropulsion.

Other possible related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety – Beyond normal levels
  • Hallucinations, psychosis
  • Sleep disturbances – May include talking and moving during the night, vivid dreams.
  • Constipation
  • Pain
  • Increase in dandruff or oily skin

Parkinson’s disease itself is not fatal, but complications from the disease can be serious and the symptoms can make everyday activities extremely challenging. And while there is currently no cure, recognizing the signs of PD early on and getting proper home care can help keep an individual’s quality of life as high as possible through medications and other treatments.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Parkinson’s disease affects as many as 500, 000 people in the United States.  Getting medical attention early is important to slow the progression, if you or someone you know begins to exhibit any of the signs of Parkinson’s disease, consult your doctor.


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