It’s essential to recognize the early signs of Parkinson’s disease so you can take action. These include rest tremors, stiffness, slow movement, and a shuffling gait. You may notice that you speak more softly or that your handwriting appears smaller and slower than usual. You might even have difficulty swinging your arms when walking.
Let’s take a look at the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to help us recognize onset and flare-ups.
Tremors (rhythmic shaking) are the most common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. They may start in one limb, such as your hand or fingers, or spread to multiple limbs. They may also occur while your muscles are at rest.
Careful observation can help you and your doctor determine what type of tremor you have. Tremors are classified as essential tremors, Parkinson’s or other neurological disorders, and pathologic tremors (from some other condition). Physiologic tremor is a standard variant that can occur during posture maintenance, specific activities, exercise, anxiety, fear, hyperthyroidism, low blood sugar, or when taking certain medications.
Other tremor symptoms include cramped or small handwriting, known as micrographia; mask-like facial expressions; and drooling. Slow movements or bradykinesia, which cause you to drag or shuffle your steps while walking, can also indicate Parkinson’s. Your healthcare provider will assess how your tremors affect various aspects of movement and speech, including stiffness, speed, balance, coordination, facial expression, and gait. They may prescribe tranquilizers to relieve tremors, but these can be addictive and affect sleep, concentration, and coordination.
Changes in Posture
People with PD may experience posture changes, including a stooped or rounded back, reduced low back curve, and a forward lean of the head or body. They also might take small steps and shuffle with their feet closer together as they walk. This symptom of PD, called bradykinesia (Greek for “slow movement”), can also affect facial expression and lead to less frequent blinking and slower, smaller handwriting.
Family members and friends are often the first to notice these early signs of Parkinson’s disease, says Dr. Joseph, who adds that people who experience tremors and a shuffling gait may be referred to a neurologist for additional testing. If a person is diagnosed with PD, they will receive medication that helps to restore the dopamine in the brain and slow the progression of the disease.
Good posture is essential to maintain overall health and reduce the risk of falls and muscle problems. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you see a friend or loved one hunched over when standing or looking like they are about to fall over.
Changes in Voice
A person’s voice is a window into their emotional and physical health. It’s essential to note when your voice changes and report any concerns to your doctor.
A hoarse, raspy, or strained voice can indicate illness or injury. It can also be a warning sign of a problem with the larynx, which produces sound and contains two bands of smooth muscle tissue stretching across the windpipe to form a slit for breathing and swallowing.
Studies show that a person’s vocal intensity, frequency, and duration can be linked to their state of mind or mood. The volume of a person’s voice increases with emotional arousal, such as excitement or laughter.
A loss of normal variation in the tone and pitch of a person’s voice may be an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD). The voice becomes softer, with words becoming more crowded together or fading away when speaking. The voice becomes monotone, and it is harder to produce higher notes. PD symptoms also affect how fast a person speaks and how loudly they speak.
Changes in Handwriting
If a person’s handwriting gets smaller and the letters crowd together, it may be an early sign of Parkinson’s. Often, the symptoms start in one limb — usually the hand or fingers. It’s important to note this change because, as the condition progresses, it’ll likely affect other body parts.
A change in handwriting is a symptom of many neurological and muscular conditions, such as essential tremors, benign essential tremors, Parkinson’s disease, and writer’s cramps. It’s also a common side effect of certain medications, including antidepressants and sedatives.
Suppose the change in handwriting is the signature on legal documents, such as financial papers and advanced directives. In that case, preparing several formal witnessed and notarized affidavits can be a good idea. This way, family members and attorneys will have documentation of a change in the signature and can take steps to address it. The same goes for a change in signatures on emails and letters.
Rigid Facial Expression
Facial masking, or hypomimia, is a common early symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It occurs when the muscles that control facial expressions become stiff and slow. That makes it difficult to smile or raise an eyebrow and can make it harder to communicate with others. Some medications can help with facial masking.
This symptom may also affect the lower face, including mouth movements and spontaneous smiling. The condition can be categorized into mild, moderate, or severe. Mild hypomimia is less noticeable and is typically characterized by less facial masking and trembling of the small muscles in the lower face. Moderate masked facies are more noticeable and may include fewer smiles and decreased lip movement. Severe masked facies are often associated with more severe motor symptoms, and they may cause people to blink infrequently or hold their mouths closed.
Read more: Hope for Parkinson’s Disease Treatments 2023