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Signs of Parkinson's Disease: What You Need to Know

Managing the disease and improving the quality of life for those affected by it means taking time to understand the signs of Parkinson's.

This article explores the various signs of Parkinson's, from the most common to the lesser known. Before talking about the symptoms, we'll give a brief overview of the disease.


What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease affects the body's ability to move.

People with Parkinson's experience a decrease in dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate movement. A reduction in dopamine levels can result in signs associated with the disease.

While there is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, treatments are available to help manage symptoms. These treatments may include the following:

  • Medications

  • Physical therapy

  • Lifestyle changes

Medications can increase dopamine levels in the brain. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes can improve mobility and quality of life.


Tremors

While not everyone with Parkinson's has tremors, they're the most common sign of the disease.

Tremors cause involuntary shaking or quivering movements in one or more parts of the body. Movement usually begins in one hand or arm. Tremors may eventually spread to the other side of the body.

You may notice tremors more when resting. They decrease after moving the limb. Stress and emotional excitement can make tremors worse.

Not all tremors show Parkinson's disease. Other conditions that can cause tremors include:

  • Essential tremor

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Stroke

  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal

  • Anxiety or stress

It's essential to speak with a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan if you are experiencing tremors or other symptoms.


Slow Movement

People with Parkinson's disease may experience bradykinesia—the medical term for slow movement. It's a common symptom of Parkinson's and other movement disorders.

People with bradykinesia may struggle with activities requiring fine motor control. Buttoning clothes, handwriting, or using utensils may become difficult. They may also have difficulty with larger movements, such as walking or getting out of a chair.

In Parkinson's disease, degeneration of dopamine-producing cells in the brain causes slow movement.


Parkinson's can also affect automatic movements. Automatic movements include blinking, swinging your arms while walking, or smiling. These are all things you do without thinking.

Muscle Stiffness

Muscle stiffness or rigidity is another sign of Parkinson's disease.

The degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain affects the normal function of the basal ganglia. Basal ganglia are a group of structures in the brain responsible for controlling movement and posture.


Losing dopamine causes excessive contraction of muscles and stiffness in the limbs, neck, and trunk. This rigidity can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks. It can also cause pain and discomfort.


Parkinson's disease can also cause rigidity in the muscles of the face and neck. This affects facial expressions and makes communication more difficult.


Balance Problems

Parkinson's can cause problems with balance and coordination, leading to falls and injuries.


The disease affects brain cells that control movement, but those cells control balance. As Parkinson's progresses, losing dopamine can cause the basal ganglia to become less effective. This makes it harder to control their movements and maintain their balance.

Parkinson's disease can also affect the cerebellum and the brainstem. These parts of the brain help control balance.


People with Parkinson's get a double whammy when it comes to fall risk.


Changes in Speech and Handwriting

Parkinson's often affects the area of the brain responsible for controlling language. A person with the disease may notice changes in speech and writing.

Parkinson's can also affect the ability to understand and process language.


Speech Changes

People with Parkinson's disease may speak more softly, slur their words, or have trouble finding the right words.

Some people begin speaking in a monotone voice. They speak with a lack of inflection or variation in tone. A person with Parkinson's may also hesitate or pause before speaking, making it harder for them to express themselves.


Changes in Writing Ability

Parkinson's signs may include handwriting changes—often called micrographia. Handwriting becomes smaller and more cramped, making it harder to read.

Speech pathology may help. If you notice changes in speech or handwriting in yourself or a loved one, it's critical to meet with a specialist trained to help manage these symptoms and improve communication abilities.


Masking

People with Parkinson's may also have reduced eye blinking and lack movement in their facial muscles. This can happen even when feeling emotions or trying to communicate.

Masking, also known as facial masking or hypomimia, is a common sign of Parkinson's disease that causes a person's face to appear expressionless or mask-like.

Facial masking can make it difficult for a person to communicate effectively and can make it difficult for others to read their emotions. It can also lead to social isolation and depression.


The exact cause of masking in Parkinson's disease is not fully understood, but it's likely related to a combination of motor and non-motor symptoms.


Motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, such as bradykinesia (slowness of movement), rigidity, and tremors, can affect the muscles responsible for facial expression.

Non-motor symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue, can also contribute to masking. These symptoms can affect a person's motivation to engage in social interactions and to express emotions, resulting in reduced facial expression.


Loss of Smell

Yes, loss of smell, or anosmia, can be one of the early signs of Parkinson's. Up to 90% of people with the disease experience some smell loss.

Damage to the olfactory nerve causes the loss of smell.


The dopamine-producing cells mentioned before carry signals between the brain, muscles, and nerves. If they die off, odor cues don't get through. This impairs the sense of smell.


Please note that loss of smell can also be a sign of other health conditions.

On its own, it's not a definitive sign of Parkinson's disease. However, if it's combined with other symptoms such as tremors, bradykinesia, or muscle rigidity, it may show Parkinson's disease and should be discussed with a doctor.


Fainting

Fainting, called syncope, is not a primary sign of Parkinson's disease. However, roughly 15-50 % of people with the disease experience orthostatic hypotension, a type of low blood pressure.

Orthostatic hypotension can cause a person to faint. That's because when the person stands up from a seated or lying position, gravity causes blood to pool in the lower extremities. When the blood pools, it can cause a temporary drop in blood pressure.

Orthostatic hypotension can occur in people with Parkinson's disease due to several factors.

One of the factors is the effect of Parkinson's disease on the autonomic nervous system, which regulates blood pressure and heart rate. In Parkinson's disease, the autonomic nervous system can become disrupted, leading to problems with blood pressure regulation.

Various signs of Parkinson's don't normally occur at the same time. Usually, a person experiences symptoms in stages. Read on for a brief overview of the stages of Parkinson's.


Stages of Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease develops gradually, and its symptoms worsen over time. There are five Parkinson's stages based on the severity and progression of symptoms.

Stage 1

At this stage, the symptoms are mild and only affect one side of the body. Tremors and other movement symptoms may occur, but they are barely noticeable and do not interfere with daily activities.

Stage 2

Symptoms at this stage start affecting both sides of the body. Tremors, stiffness, and other movement symptoms become more apparent. Daily activities become more challenging.

Stage 3

The symptoms become more severe at this stage and significantly impact daily activities. Balance and coordination problems may occur, making it difficult to perform simple tasks such as dressing or eating.

Stage 4

Symptoms at this stage are severe. The patient may require assistance in carrying out daily activities. Walking may become difficult or impossible without help.

Stage 5

This is the most advanced stage of Parkinson's disease. The person becomes wholly immobile and requires constant care. They may also experience hallucinations, delusions, and other psychiatric symptoms.


It's worth noting that not everyone with Parkinson's disease will experience all of these stages. The progression of the disease can vary significantly from person to person.

Additionally, the rate of progression can be influenced by several factors, including age, overall health, and response to treatment.


We Help Track Signs of Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease is a complex health condition that can significantly impact a person's quality of life. However, recognizing the signs of Parkinson's makes it possible to take preventative action.


Power of Patients offers several resources, including a revolutionary online tool designed to help you and your healthcare team track and manage your symptoms.

Let us help you get the most out of life while managing the various issues you or your loved one experiences due to Parkinson's disease.

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