Signs of Parkinson's Disease

  • A Serious Brain Disorder
    A Serious Brain Disorder
    When you hear the name Michael J. Fox, three things may come to mind: Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy, and Parkinson"s disease. Fox is famous for his work in film and TV. But what he might be most associated with these days is his public battle with and crusade against Parkinson"s disease--a brain disorder affecting muscle movement that gradually worsens over time.

  • Senior-Couple-Walking-Along-Beach-Together
    Know the Signs
    So you"ve heard of Parkinson"s disease (PD), but can you recognize the symptoms? There are four main signs of the disease:

    • Tremors (trembling)

    • Rigidity (muscle stiffness)

    • Postural instability (impaired balance and coordination)

    • Bradykinesia (slowed movement)

    You may want to get familiar with the signs--experts estimate that at least 500,000 people in the United States suffer from PD, and the financial burden may total more than $6 billion each year. And because older people are more at risk, researchers believe the disease"s impact will continue to grow.

  • Arthritis pain
    Tremors are a common sign of PD. They often begin in the hand or foot on one side of the body. This shaking may eventually spread to the other side of the body, as well as to the head, lips, and tongue. Tremors tend to appear most often when the muscles are relaxed and usually fade away during movement. The spasms also increase during periods of stress.

  • woman with neck pain
    Rigidity--muscle stiffness--is another sign of Parkinson"s. This stiffness causes short, jerky movements and a reduced range of motion. Muscle tightness can be accompanied by aches and cramping.

  • Man with walker
    Impaired Balance and Coordination
    Postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination, is yet another hurdle for people with PD. Those with balance problems are more likely to fall and may have trouble with turns or quick movements. This symptom may also be characterized by stooped posture, in which the head and shoulders are drooped. Moments of freezing or feeling stuck are also common.

  • Symptom: Problems Walking
    Slowed Movement
    Bradykinesia is the slowing down of movement--another especially frustrating sign of the disease. This can turn small tasks, like bathing or getting dressed, into big challenges. Those affected by this symptom may struggle to begin a movement--like getting out of a chair--and their motions may stop suddenly.

  • portrait of pensive African American woman wearing headscarf and hoop earrings
    Secondary Symptoms
    Adding to these challenges is a collection of secondary symptoms that often accompany the disease. Not all of these symptoms will be present, and the degree of severity will also differ from person to person. Secondary symptoms can be grouped into two categories: those affecting movement (motor) and others (nonmotor).

  • overweight woman
    Loss of Dexterity
    Fine motor dexterity, including small hand movements like holding a fork, cutting food, or fastening buttons, often becomes difficult. Handwriting may be small, shaky, and cramped.

  • close up of senior man's face and mouth
    A Masklike Expression
    Slowed movement and muscle stiffness can affect the muscles in the face, leaving it expressionless and masklike. Swallowing also becomes more difficult over time--resulting in extra saliva and drooling. Even speech can be a problem as loss of muscle control may cause slurring, a softened voice, or monotone delivery.

  • bathroom
    Other Potential Difficulties
    PD"s disruptive affect on the nervous system can also create trouble with the bladder and bowels. Urinary problems, such as incontinence, may arise. When the urge to go is coupled with slow movement and trouble getting to the bathroom in time, an accident could result. Constipation is also common in people with Parkinson"s, possibly because of slow movement through the bowels or muscle stiffness and slowness on the pelvic floor. Sexual dysfunction in both men and women is yet another possible symptom of the disease.

  • Woman frowning with head in hands
    Emotional Challenges
    Parkinson"s can create trouble for nonmotor functions, too. A person can become depressed, and may be scared and anxious to spend time in public or with friends. Nightmares and difficulty staying asleep are common sleep disturbances associated with PD. Memory problems, slowed thinking, and trouble concentrating may also develop. Feeling zapped of energy is yet another challenge of living with the disease.

  • Talk with Your Doctor, doctors
    Talk with Your Doctor
    While there is no cure for Parkinson"s disease, medication options and innovative therapies like deep brain stimulation are available to help control its many symptoms. Talk with your doctor about a treatment plan that"s right for you.

What Are the Signs of Parkinson’s Disease?

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