Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms often start gradually with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand. Parkinson’s also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.
Nearly 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, and 60,000 are newly diagnosed each year, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Most people who are diagnosed are in their 60s, with men being 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women.
To help raise awareness, the Parkinson’s Foundation promotes the 10 early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease. These signs are designed to help someone recognize the possibility of Parkinson’s disease. Having one sign is not a cause of concern, but two or more signs should result in a discussion with your primary care physician to see if a referral with a neurologist is necessary.
- Tremor: A tremor or slight shaking of the finger, thumb, hand or chin while at rest is a common early sign. Shaking can also be normal after excessive exercise, from stress, with injuries, or certain medications.
- Small handwriting: If the way you write has changed, for example the words are smaller and crowded together, it might be a sign of Parkinson’s. Your writing can also change as you get older if you have stiff hands or fingers, or poor vision.
- Loss of smell: Trouble smelling strong smells like bananas, dill pickles and licorice can be a concern when discussing Parkinson’s. You can also lose your sense of smell due to cold, flu or a stuffy nose, but it should return as your symptoms improve.
- Trouble sleeping: If your spouse has commented on you thrashing around in bed during sleep, it might be a sign of Parkinson’s. Everyone has a night when they “toss and turn” instead of sleeping. But for Parkinson’s the thrashing tends to occur when they are in a deep sleep.
- Trouble moving or walking: Stiffness in the body, arms or legs that does not go away with movement can be a sign of Parkinson’s. An individual also might have stiffness or pain in the shoulder or hips. Patients who have injured their arm or shoulder will feel stiffness until the injury is healed. Arthritis also might cause this same symptom.
- Constipation: Parkinson’s disease can mean trouble moving your bowels without straining every day. Anyone who does not consume enough water or fiber in their diet will have this same problem. Also, some medications cause constipation.
- A soft or low voice: A change in voice, with other people telling you your voice is very soft or you sound hoarse, can be a sign, too. Coughs or colds can cause the same sound but, again, your voice should return to normal once you are well.
- Masked face: Another sign of Parkinson’s disease is facial masking. This is a serious, depressed or mad look on your face even when you are not in a bad mood. There are certain medications that can cause you to have the same serious or staring look, but you will go back to the way you were once you stop the medication.
- Dizziness or fainting: When you stand up out of a chair and feel dizzy or faint, it can be a sign of low blood pressure, which can be linked to Parkinson’s. Dizziness happens to everyone from time to time, but if it is on a regular basis, you should see your physician.
- Stooping or hunching over: Stooping, leaning or slouching when standing can be a sign of Parkinson’s. It also can be a result of pain from injury, illness or a bone problem.
Dr. Deborah Kirby is a board certified neurologist with McLeod Neurological Associates. She specializes in neuromuscular disorders, nerve conduction studies and migraine management. She also sees a broad range of neurologic disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and seizures. She is accepting new patients by physician referral.