April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to talk about the early warning signs of the disease that you should look for. Parkinson’s Disease is a motor system disorder that affects movement and can progress over time. About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease each year and the National Parkinson’s Foundation notes that there are thousands of additional cases that go undetected. Most cases begin around age 60. However, Parkinson’s Disease can occur in younger adults.
Parkinson’s Disease symptoms include those that often go unseen.
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Many people with early signs of Parkinson’s Disease think these early signs are a normal part of aging, and they don’t seek medical help. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, there are treatments that can help reduce symptoms. But to get treatment, you have to first recognize the symptoms. The National Parkinson’s Foundation has identified ten early warning signs you should look for.
- Tremors. The first signs of Parkinson’s Disease are tremors, which appear as a slight shaking in body parts like your finger, hand, or lip. These tremors often happen when you’re relaxed. One common type of tremor is a “pill-rolling tremor,” or a back-and-forth motion of your thumb and forefinger.
- Loss of smell. You might notice that certain foods don’t smell as strongly as they used to. An impaired sense of smell can occur years before you notice any movement problems.
- Cramped handwriting. People sometimes notice that their handwriting looks different than it used to. The letters are crowded together or are smaller than they used to be. Writing might also be more difficult than it used to be.
- Muscle stiffness. As we age, our muscles and joints tend to become more stiff. Usually, this goes away as we move around. If it doesn’t, it could be an early sign of Parkinson’s. If you’ve noticed that your arms don’t swing when you walk, your feet feel stuck to the floor, or if others have commented that you look stiff, you might be in the early stages of Parkinson’s.
- Trouble sleeping. Flailing your arms or legs when you’re deeply asleep, or even kicking and punching during the night. You may also simply have a hard time getting to sleep.
- Speaking softly. You may have noticed (or others have told you) that your speaking voice sounds unusually soft, or that you sound hoarse when you speak.
- Mask-like face. People with Parkinson’s may show little facial expression. You may not blink your eyes as often as you normally would, and appear to stare.
- Constipation. You’re getting enough water and fiber in your diet, but are still constipated.
- Dizziness. You have felt light headed or fainted a couple of times recently.
- Stooped posture. You used to stand straight up with good posture, but now find that your posture is more bent over or stooped.
It’s important to remember that all of the above warning signs can be caused by conditions other than Parkinson’s. If you experience any symptoms that worry you, you should always see your healthcare provider. If you do have Parkinson’s, there are now many treatments that can reduce your symptoms and help slow the progression of the disease.
For more information about Parkinson’s Disease, visit:
The Mayo Clinic’s pages about Parkinson’s Disease
The National Parkinson Foundation website