Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects over 10 million people around the world. The disease develops when the brain lost a certain group of cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlled body movement.
Parkinson’s is usually recognized with its early typical motor symptoms. But it also has many other features that do not involve movement and appear as non-motor signs. Knowing these signs is important for early diagnosis.
So here are the most common early signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s that should not be ignored.
1. Slowness of Movement
It is the fundamental sign of Parkinson’s that can affect body movement in many ways. For example:
- It reduces the speed and stride length in walking.
- It causes trouble in initiating small movements like getting up out of a bed or chair, getting dressed, and taking shoes on and off.
- It decreases associated movement like arm swinging during walking.
- It affects spontaneous movement like facial expression.
This is the second most obvious motor sign of Parkinson’s that appears in over 80% of the patients. Patients often seek diagnosis when they noticed that their hands are trembling.
Initially, this problem affects only one side of the body. But as the disease progresses, it may cross to the other side and ultimately appears on both sides of the body.
Tremor appears mostly in hands, especially when they are at rest. In addition to hands, it can also affect the legs, head, and voice of a person.
Rigidity is also one of the key early signs of Parkinson’s that is usually represented as the stiffness of arms or legs. It can cause pain and may also contribute to slowness of movement. It makes it more difficult for a patient to perform small movements like rising from deep chairs or rolling over in bed.
4. Small Handwriting
Small handwriting or micrographia is the most commonly reported and easily detected early sign of Parkinson’s. It is often used as a useful tool for early diagnosis.
In micrographia, a patient may notice a sudden change in the size of writing – it turns from normal to small. When a patient starts writing, it may look OK in the beginning but as the writing progresses, it changes into smaller and cramped style.
5. Loss of Facial Expression
Parkinson’s also leaves changes in the face of a person. It affects the muscles that control the face movement and result in changing the expression of the face from normal to a mask-like.
This is the reason why most Parkinson’s patients look very serious or depressed and have a fixed stare, even though they are not in a bad mood.
Over half of Parkinson’s patients experience constipation, which is thought to be a side effect of medication. But this could also be one of the earliest symptoms of the disease.
Researchers think that there is a strong connection between constipation and Parkinson’s disease. They suggest that frequent constipation may be the indication of certain cells in the brain that are linked to Parkinson’s.
Since this problem appears many years before the onset of motor symptoms, it could be used as a useful criterion for early diagnosis.
7. Lack of Social Activities
Social withdrawal or loss of interest in pleasurable activities on its own is sometimes a common problem. But if it is accompanied by symptoms of depression and anxiety, it may be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease. In scientific terminology, this is called apathy.
Apathy is linked with decreased levels of dopamine in the brain. Research suggests that those with low dopamine tend to avoid participating in life activities. They often find themselves spending more time at home alone and don’t find enjoyment in outside activities.
8. Reduce Sense of Smell
Most people with Parkinson’s have a reduced sense of smell, which is often ignored by doctors at the time of diagnosis.
In fact, this problem appears several years before the onset of motor symptoms and can be one of the early warning signs of Parkinson’s.
While it is not clear why the loss of smell appears in Parkinson’s, researchers have increasingly realized that there is a strong connection between the two. They have found that abnormal changes occur in part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell.
9. Sleep Problems
Trouble sleeping is a common problem, however, if it’s happening more often, it may be the indication of developing Parkinson’s disease.
There are many types of sleep disorders, but the one which is strongly associated with Parkinson’s is the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It is estimated that 45% of people with REM sleep have a chance to subsequently develop Parkinson’s disease.
In REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly in a different direction, heart rate and breathing become faster, and shouting is common.
Other sleep disorders that are linked to Parkinson’s disease include sleep apnea (breathing disruption during sleep) and restless leg syndrome.
While overlooked for many years, pain is now considered one of the key symptoms of Parkinson’s. It can also be an early symptom of the disease.
Its sensation may feel by the body many years before the appearance of motor problems, but usually doesn’t get enough attention from a patient. In fact, it is also sometimes underestimated by neurologists at the time of diagnosis.
Like other typical symptoms, pain can also bother a patient’s daily life and sometimes it can be so intense that it overshadows other key signs of the disease.
11. Low Blood Pressure
Feeling dizziness and fainting are the signs of low blood pressure, which may indicate the development of Parkinson’s disease.
It is estimated that up to 40% of Parkinson’s patients have low blood pressure. Despite such a high prevalence, this sign of the disease is often poorly recognized and inadequately treated.
Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.