Each person with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) doesn’t have the same experience. The progression of symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can differ, too.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder with a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms characteristic of PD involve problems with movement. There are also non-motor symptoms, including changes in mood, memory, and sleep, which can disrupt quality of life for PD patients, too.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease most often become apparent and lead to a diagnosis of PD when a person is 50 or older. However, Parkinson’s disease can affect younger people, as well. In fact, about 10 percent of Parkinson’s diagnoses occur before age 50, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association.
The symptoms of early onset Parkinson’s disease may be mistaken for other, less serious problems in younger people — at least at first. For example, when actor Michael J. Fox was only 29, he assumed a tremor in a finger was simply due to a pulled muscle.
“I thought I'd hurt my shoulder doing some stunt because I had a twitch in my pinkie. And the doctor said 'You have Parkinson's disease,’’ Fox explained in an LA Times article. "I was 29 years old and so it was the last thing I expected to hear.”
Early signs of Parkinson’s disease
The tremor Fox experienced is commonly one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease. Like Fox’s finger trembling, early signs of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Tremors, a form of rhythmic shaking, are one of the major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, occurring in approximately 70 to 80 percent of cases. A typical Parkinson’s disease tremor occurs mostly at rest and, as Fox first experienced, the trembling may start in a finger or hand. The “pill rolling” tremor often associated with Parkinson’s disease involves the thumb plus the other fingers trembling together, looking as if the person with the tremor is rolling a pill or a marble in their fingers. PD tremors can occur in the arms, legs, jaw, and face, too.
In the early stage of Parkinson’s disease, tremors typically develop first on one side of the body. PD tremors can often be exacerbated by stress or excitement, the Parkinson’s Foundation points out.
Bradykinesia (the medical term for slowness of movement) is another early sign of Parkinson’s disease. People with PD may notice their voluntary movements become slow and less fluid. The result can be increasing difficulty with things most of us take for granted – like brushing your teeth or buttoning a shirt. Handwriting may become small, cramped, and sloppy, too.
Almost all PD patients have bradykinesia, according to the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation. Over time, it can worsen, causing a shuffling gait. Facial expressions can become mask-like, and bradykinesia may cause soft speech and difficulty swallowing as Parkinson’s disease progresses, too.
Other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
In addition to tremor and bradykinesia, the primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are rigidity and postural instability.
Rigidity refers to muscle stiffness that can impair a person’s full range of motion in their arms, legs, and trunk and interfere with normal daily activities. This Parkinson’s disease symptom can also cause pain and a stooped posture as PD progresses.
Postural instability, which usually begins in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease, results in a loss of balance reflexes. The result can be falls and injuries, contributing greatly to Parkinson’s disease-related disability.
In addition, these non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may develop or worsen as PD progresses:
- Mood changes, anxiety, and depression
- Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, and talking
- Constipation or urinary problems
- Sleep disruptions
- Diminished sense of smell
- Memory loss
- Erectile dysfunction in men
March 16, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN