12 Early Warning Signs Of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is defined as an “a chronic and progressive brain disorder that causes loss of muscle control”, and about one million people in the US are affected by it. According to the he Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, the condition causes “the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain.” Many of the affected nerves are responsible for producing dopamine, the chemical that controls movement and coordination of the human body.

Commonly known symptoms of Parkinson’s include slowed movement, speech impediments, and tremors. But these often only present themselves when the illness has progressed to its later stages. As with any other disease, the earlier that it is detected, the easier it would be treat and medicate. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that might be present in the early stages of it. Here are 12 such signs that you need to be on the lookout for.

1. Loss of Smell

Loss of or an impaired sense of smell, known medically as anosmia, is said to be one of the very first signs of Parkinson’s In fact, the NHS says that in some cases, this symptom might develop several years before any others do.

According to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation the problem with smell arises when “messages such as odor cues don’t get through” to the brain due to cell and nerve damage, disrupting the signals passed to the brain from the muscle and nerves. This occurs due to the dopamine-producing cells being affected, as we saw earlier.

2. Trouble Sleeping

Having trouble sleeping is something that plagues all humans at some point or the other, but if it lasts for a long time, you might want to get it checked out as it is could be pointing to Parkinson’s disease. It is especially concerning in the case that you also experience shouting, kicking, or grinding your teeth during sleep. This is a condition called RBD or Rapid Eye-Movement Behavior Disorder.

RBD is very worrisome because about 40 percent of patients with it develop Parkinson’s disease, according to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. They also say that other sleeping disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are commonly linked to early stage Parkinson’s disease, sometimes even years in advance.

3. Constipation

We already saw how Parkinson’s disease affects the body’s nervous system, including digestion and bowel movements. This is why constipation is another common sign of early stage Parkinson’s.

But, of course, just because you’re constipated doesn’t mean you have Parkinson’s. According to Reader’s Digest, its particularly worrying when this symptom appears along with other issues such as “difficulty sleeping and trouble moving or walking.”

4. Masked Face

As Parkinson’s affects the muscles in your body, the ones in your face also end up affected. As a result, your face might lack proper movement or well defined expression, making you seem like you have a serious or blank face at all times. This could also happened very early on in the development of the disease.

According to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, “it’s easiest to recognize by a slowness to smile or frown, or staring off into the distance, along with less frequent blinking.”

5. Mood Disorders

The reason for the link between Parkinson’s and changes in mood haven’t been fully discovered yet, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is commonly reported as an early indicator of the disease. Mood disorders that a patients with Parkinson’s might experience include depression, social withdrawal or heightened anxiety in unfamiliar situations.

According to Reader’s digest, Parkinson’s patients “tend to feel apathetic and generally disinterested in things they used to enjoy.” This, along with sadness and a feeling of helplessness, is a symptom often associated with depression.

6. Dizziness and Fainting

If you’ve experienced the feeling of dizziness more than a few times over the period of some time, you could have symptomatic Neurogenic Orthostatic Hypotension (NOH). According to the NHS, this is a condition that occurs when a person’s blood pressure drops suddenly while standing up, and is a common symptom among Parkinson’s patients. In fact, this is a symptom that is present in about 15-50% of people with the illness.

Doctors believe this symptom occurs due to the lack of norepinephrine in the nervous system, which is a “a chemical that ‘talks’ to sensors on your blood vessels telling them to tighten, or constrict, which raises your blood pressure and brings blood back up to your brain,” as defined by the NHS. Furthermore, an improper blood flow to the brain could also cause dizziness, lightheartedness, and even fainting.

7. Excessive Sweating

Since the main area affected by Parkinson’s is the nervous system of one’s body, it also impacts the skin and sweat glands. This could cause an excessive uncontrollable sweating, known medically as hyperhidrosis. Women who experience this symptom might find it similar to hot flashes felt during menopause.

Other changes in skin that patients with Parkinson’s might discover include their skin becoming more oily, including the scalp area, which could result in dandruff.

8. Slowed Movement

When the disease moves past its most initial stage, one of the most common ways it shows itself is through slowed movement, a symptom known as bradykinesia. Seemingly meaningless tasks like buttoning a shirt or eating with a spoon could become time-consuming and difficult.

Furthermore, it might also cause problems with walking, causing you to take shorter steps or drag your feet. Healthline.com says these problems arise due to “the impairment of the neurons that control movement.”

9. Rigid Muscles

Almost all patients with Parkinson’s will develop a stiffness in the muscles and limbs to some extent, known as rigidity. WebMD describes this as “the inability of the muscles to relax normally.”

Rigidity can cause a decrease in a person’s range of motion, and this can be accompanied by pain or discomfort in the affected parts of the body. One of the common ways to detect rigidity is if you’re having trouble swinging your arms while walking.

10. Changes in Writing

Patients with Parkinson’s have also reported a sudden difficulty in writing. Micrographia, or small handwriting that seems more crowded and chaotic is a common sign of the disease.

Although this might appear to be a more subtle sign than some of the other motor-impairments, it is nevertheless also caused by slowed movements (bradykinesia). The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation says that bradykinesia makes it difficult to perform repetitive tasks, and that’s why microphagia might occur.

11. Impaired Posture and Balance

As Parkinson’s affects the person’s coordination, muscle movement and reflexes, it becomes difficult to maintain posture and balance. This may cause them to slouch, become stooped over, or retropulsion – the action of swaying backward when arising from a sitting position. Retropulsion makes actions like turning around or quick movements especially challenging.

But, Healthline.com acknowledges that these changes won’t happen all of a sudden. They say that “posture will change in small ways at first, and will gradually worsen.”

12. Speech and Voice Changes

Muscle impairment originating from Parkinson’s can also affect the way a person talks and cause problems with speech. Often, they will seem to slur their words, talk too fast, or hesitate before speaking. Their voice may become softer and more monotone as well.

Often times, this is a symptom that is more commonly recognized by the people around those with Parkinson’s than the patient themselves. And Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation says that it is one of the earliest symptoms of the disease.

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