What are the signs of Parkinson's disease?


Mohammad Ali. Michael J. Fox. Johnny Cash. Estelle Getty. Charles Schultz.

What do all of these celebrities have in common? They all have or had Parkinson’s disease.
April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and while there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, early detection and treatment may improve the quality of life for people living with the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder most common in people over age 50. While it can affect both men and women, studies have found that men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson's than women. It’s a progressive disease that often begins with very minor symptoms, such as a small hand tremor, but eventually affects the whole body.

The disease isn’t always easy to detect because not everybody who has Parkinson’s experiences the same symptoms, and progression of the disease can vary from one person to the next. Some common symptoms may point to Parkinson’s, but any of these symptoms may also be caused by something other than Parkinson’s.

Motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Bradykinesia: Slowing down and loss of movement (shuffling feet, taking smaller steps, etc.)

  • Rigidity: Unusual stiffness in a limb or other part of the body

  • Resting tremor: Uncontrollable movement that affects a limb when it is at rest and stops during voluntary movement of that limb
Postural instability: difficulty standing or walking, or impaired balance and coordination

Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Cognitive impairment: Decline in ability to concentrate and/or multi-task, potential decline in intellectual function

  • Mood disorders: Depression and anxiety

  • Difficulty sleeping: REM sleep disorder (acting out dreams)

  • Low blood pressure when standing

  • Constipation
Speech and swallowing problems
Loss of smell

Parkinson’s disease is rare — it occurs in just 13 of every 100,000 people in America — and even if you experience more than one of the symptoms listed above, that does not necessarily mean you have Parkinson’s disease. 
However, if you notice any changes in your body or cognitive function, make an appointment to see your primary healthcare provider. He or she can help determine the cause of the symptoms and, if necessary, refer you to a movement disorders specialist, which is a neurologist with expertise in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.