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10+ Early Symptoms of Parkinson's to Look For

Updated: May 26, 2023

The hallmark symptoms are tremors

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder wherein the symptoms begin to degenerate over a period of time. The underlying cause is the nerve cells that are responsible for controlling the movement start to degenerate, die or weaken. This hampers the production of a very important chemical known as dopamine. Research suggests the symptoms are developed in patients when more than 80 percent of dopamine-producing cells are lost.

Dopamine acts as a coordinator between the billions of nerve and muscle cells that are responsible for movement in the body. Dopamine sets off a delicate balance with other neurotransmitters, the lack of which an imbalance is created resulting in the trembling of limbs, clumsiness of movement, damaged balance, and coordination - the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s.

The diagnosis tests for Parkinson’s are a challenge since the exact causes aren’t yet known. However, medical reports claim males are one and a half times at a greater risk for developing the ailment than their female counterparts. Parkinson’s is seen more in whites in comparison to Blacks or Asians. The geographical location might have some connection here.

Parkinson’s was known to usually affect people aged 50 and above. However, the data is changing continually. Michael J Fox, the Back to the Future star was diagnosed with the ailment at the age of 30. Family history, exposure to toxins, and head injuries are some of the other risk factors that might be accounted for in the detection of Parkinson’s in a person. Let’s take a look at some hallmark symptoms of the disease and stay cautious.

1. Tremors - The classic sign

Considered to be the hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease, tremors are the first and the easiest to spot symptom. Persistent shaking of the hands and twitching of the limbs, legs, or chin is an easily noticeable thing. When the involved body part is put to rest, the tremors stop. These are called ‘rest tremors’.

When the symptoms are mild and the tremors are identified only by the person who has them. It isn’t that prominent. But as the disease progresses, the symptoms become obvious. Beginning from one side of the body, the symptoms spread to the other parts gradually.

2. Difficulty in Walking

Gross and motor skills are the most looked-out for symptoms while diagnosing Parkinson's disease. Early signs of the ailment might hint at subtle changes in the walking pattern of the person. A slow walk or conscious dragging of the feet might be a sign to look for. It is often described as a “shuffling gait”.

3. Cramped or small handwriting

Parkinson’s is associated with medical conditions that affect the nervous system. It gives way to a disorder named micrographia - a scientific term for extremely small and cramped handwriting. It is not by choice. If the person is affected by Parkinson’s it is not possible for them to move their fingers over a larger expanse.

4. Loss of smell

Oh yes, it ain’t just Covid. Remember how we use to check our olfactory sense during the pandemic? Medically coined as Hyposmia, is the loss of the ability to smell. About 70-90 percent of the sufferers acknowledge this symptom. It might be a precursor to any other symptom and occur several years before the side effect of the disease begin to surface.

People with hyposmia as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease might find it difficult to identify and distinguish odors. Hyposmia is not a confirmatory test for Parkinson’s. Various other factors like exposure to harsh chemicals, age, and smoking can be accounted for olfactory dysfunction.

5. Sleep Disorder

Parkinson’s disease can severely impact the sleep pattern of a person. Right from insomnia to nightmares to sporadic movements while staying asleep (without having any control over them), to sleep apnea; the patient might display a wide range of sleep-related symptoms.

6. Poor balance

Parkinson’s disease is primarily about gross and motor skills. It specifically targets nerve cells that are responsible for control, balance, and flexibility. Any impairment of these nerves results in poor balance and stature. Medical practitioners perform a pull test to identify a person’s capacity to balance. The shoulders of the person being pulled backward until they maintain their balance. The time taken to regain the balance is recorded and thereafter judged.

7. Bradykinesia

Bradykinesia is a term that refers to slow or no movement at all. It gives rise to various symptoms such as reduced speed in the moving or stiff limbs. It can often be misdiagnosed as muscle weakness.

8. Facial masking

We know Parkinson’s is all about muscle power, balance, and control. Facial expressions incorporate complex muscle movements. A person suffering from Parkinson’s has a reduced ability to perform such movements. This might also affect the rate at which we blink our eyes. This is referred to as Facial masking. Although people suffering from Parkinson’s are not emotionless, yet they find it difficult to display those emotions through facial expressions. This disability often hampers the communicative skills of the person.

9. Vocal changes

When the vocal cords start acting crazy, it's time to watch out. Noticeable alterations in the volume and quality of a person’s voice also indicate the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Changes in the voice quality may include a softer tone while speaking or the voice becoming softer or fading away after some time. The voice modulation is deeply impacted and the voice appears monotonous.

10. Stooping or hunched posture

Since muscle rigidity degenerates, the stature is bound to change. The weight of the body is evenly distributed when a person stands. However, people with Parkinson’s tend to slouch or bend forward so they appear hunched.

11. Constipation

If your gut is not balanced and working efficiently, the repercussions will follow. It is one of the most plausible nonmotor skills associated with Parkinson's.

Every ailment is bound to leave a psychological impact on the one suffering from it. A minor dysfunction in the body is bound to drop dopamine levels thereby causing changes in your mood and behavior. Depression, anxiety, and dementia are all the side effects like the interest you pay on your loan - a surcharge on your principal amount.

Final word

Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that can lead to various symptoms, both physical and non-physical, caused by the deterioration of nerve cells within the brain. Although at the moment, there is no cure for the ailment, there are therapies and treatments proven to help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. If you have any signs of Parkinson's, you should talk to a doctor or a neurology specialist to get a correct diagnosis and a suitable treatment plan. Remember that you are not alone. Some resources can help support people with Parkinson's disease and their families.

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