How to Identify Early Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

If you know or love someone with Parkinson’s disease, you know how difficult it can be to witness the progression of the illness. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement within the body. While the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are vague, it helps to know what to look for. We will take a deeper dive into symptoms, but let’s first look at the basic facts behind this evasive disease.

While approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year in the United States, nearly one million people are living with Parkinson’s disease today. That’s more than the number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) combined. The number of people suffering from Parkinson’s is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030. Men are also more likely than women to develop Parkinson’s disease in their lifetime.

Although the most common form of Parkinsonism is idiopathic Parkinson’s, up to 15% of people with PD symptoms may suffer atypical parkinsonism disorders. Due to similar symptoms of these atypical neurodegenerative disorders, the diagnosis of PD can be challenging, especially with the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Because there is not a definitive way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, it’s important that you find a skilled neurologist that can determine the likelihood of PD via a series of diagnostic tests and symptom analysis. The final diagnosis may take time to discover, requiring several follow-up appointments with your doctor over time. A highly individualized treatment plan will follow, with a focus on the management of symptoms.

Late and Early Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Both the late and early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are not identical in every patient. It’s critical to know that symptoms vary from person to person, both in progression and intensity, and that no one symptom can be attributed to developing Parkinson’s disease. While typical symptoms are associated with mobility, some non-motor symptoms can occur as well.

Motor Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease often presents in four primary symptoms:

  • Tremor

A common symptom, tremors often occur during “rest”, when the part of the body is not actively moving. Tremors are typically experienced on only one side of the body during the early stages and may immediately disappear when actively moving the muscles experiencing the tremor. “Pill rolling” between the thumb and pointer finger is a common type of tremor among patients with Parkinson’s.

  • Rigidity

Muscle stiffness in limbs, trunk, or face may occur and the feeling of “tightness” may limit mobility. This may cause some pain in the muscles or joints affected. Rigidity may impact sleep quality and may often be mistaken for arthritis.

  • Bradykinesia (Slow Movement)

General slowness and fine motor difficulty are mostly associated with Bradykinesia. Tasks like buttoning a shirt or turning over in bed become difficult, as well as decreased blink rate and facial expressions (facial masking) may be apparent.

  • Postural Instability (Balance Problems)

Trouble with balance and easy falls are another common symptom, as well as a stooped posture.

Other motor symptoms may include speech changes, smaller writing, loss of automatic movements, dizziness or fainting, drooling, and curled or clenched toes or feet (dystonia).

Non-Motor Symptoms

Although non-motor symptoms may not be as apparent, these symptoms may carry a higher risk of developing into other health problems and can often become more troublesome.

  • Cognitive changes: attention problems, language, planning, memory loss
  • Early satiety: a feeling of fullness after eating small amounts
  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increase in dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis)
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations/delusions
  • Lightheadedness (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, apathy, and irritability
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Pain
  • Sexual problems
  • Sleep disorders
  • Vision problems, especially when attempting to read items up close
  • Urinary urgency, frequency, and incontinence
  • Weight loss

Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

Physicians and researchers have yet to discover a cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, the treatment to alleviate symptoms has improved over the years. Varied medications have seen a significant impact and may require a regimented medication schedule for optimal results in symptom management. Each medication treatment plan is completely customized to each patient, with varying dosages based on the person’s needs and metabolism.

Surgical therapy, such as deep brain stimulation, may serve as a benefit option for some patients and has been FDA approved for over a decade. While some patients see marked improvements, surgical therapies are limited to patients who have seen improvements on a specific medication.

Speech, occupational, and physical therapy are often recommended to manage motor symptoms and can make a substantial difference in the quality of life for many patients. Most people with early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are recommended to implement lifestyle changes like increased aerobic exercise and rest. In fact, the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project showed that a slower rate of decline in the quality of life can be achieved with at least 2.5 hours a week of increased physical activity.

If you or someone you love are experiencing any symptoms, it is crucial to see a specialist for diagnosis and treatment. With over 30 years as a specialist in the field of Neurology, Board-certified neurologist and founder of Palm Beach Neurological Center Dr. Michael Tuchman treats patients who suffer from a variety of neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. Contact us at (561) 694-1010 or visit us at our office in Palm Beach Gardens.

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