10 Early Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Below are the widely accepted early warning signs of Parkinson's Disease. Having a symptom doesn't mean you have the disease; however, if you notice several symptoms, it might be worth consulting a neurologist to be sure.

1) Loss of sense of smell.

This is one of the oddest, least-known, and often earliest signs of Parkinson's disease, but it almost always goes unrecognized until later.

Patients say they were at a party, and everyone was remarking on how strong a woman's perfume was, and they couldn't smell it.

2) Trouble sleeping.

Neurologists stay alert for a sleep condition known as rapid-eye-movement behavior disorder (RBD), in which people essentially act out their dreams during REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. People with RBD may shout, kick, or grind their teeth.

3) Constipation and other bowel and bladder problems.

One of the most common early signs of Parkinson's - and most overlooked, since there are many possible causes - is constipation and gas. This results because Parkinson's can affect the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the activity of smooth muscles such as those that work the bowels and bladder.

4) Lack of facial expression.

Loss of dopamine can affect the facial muscles, making them stiff and slow and resulting in a characteristic lack of expression. The term "Parkinson's mask" is a term used to describe the extreme form of this condition, but that doesn't come until later.

5) Persistent neck pain.

This sign is particularly common in women, who have reported it as the third-most-common warning sign they noticed (after tremor and stiffness) in surveys about how they first became aware of the disease.

6) Slow, cramped handwriting.

One of the symptoms of Parkinson's, known as bradykinesia, is the slowing down and loss of spontaneous and routine movement. Handwriting is one of the most common places bradykinesia shows up.

7) Changes in voice and speech.

As the brain signals and muscles that control speech are affected by Parkinson's, a person's voice begins to change, often becoming much softer and more monotone. This is frequently one of the first early signs of Parkinson's that family and friends notice, often long before the patient becomes aware of it.

8) The arm doesn't swing freely.

"Reduced arm swing" is how doctors describe this symptom, but that doesn't fully capture what some Parkinson's patients first remember noticing. Instead, think of this sign as a subtle stiffness and reduced range of motion: reaching for a vase on the highest shelf or stretching out to return a serve in tennis and noticing the arm won't extend as far.

9) Changes in mood and personality.

Experts aren't sure why, but there are a variety of related personality changes that come with Parkinson's, including pronounced anxiety in new situations, social withdrawal, and depression.

10) Excessive sweating.

When Parkinson's affects the autonomic nervous system, it loses its ability to regulate the body, which can cause changes in the skin and sweat glands. Some people find themselves sweating uncontrollably when there's no apparent reason, such as heat or anxiety.

If you or a loved one have most of the early symptoms, you may want to see a doctor to rule out other possibilities and to begin choosing your plan of action.

You have options to explore. While there is currently no cure for Parkinson's Disease, there are medications that can drastically help manage the symptoms. Surgery or brain stimulation may also be options. Consult with your doctor and research the Mayo Clinic for the latest information.

To learn common myths about Parkinson's, go here.

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I am an author, speaker, caregiver, and Grammy. The latter is by far the most fun! Having been a primary caregiver 3x, I realized so many lessons were learned too late to benefit my Dad who passed of Parkinson's Disease. I resolved to write a book to make life easier and safer for other caregivers that would get them ideas, inspiration, and lessons learned. It's called "Caregiving: How To Hold On While Letting Go" available on Amazon. I am a Certified Caregiver Consultant and Advocate as well as a Community Educator for the Alzheimer's Assoc. and Founder of The PurpleVine LLC


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