The Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease gradually creep up on the sufferer. It’s very much a disease of the elderly and many of the initial signs of the disease can be put down to old age.
A small tremor in one finger, loss of balance and even problems walking can be misdiagnosed. These symptoms are initially very mild and non-specific but with Parkinson’s they will develop slowly and get progressively worse over time.
There are three very common symptoms, as well as a wide range others, which can affect sufferers in varying degrees. It’s important to remember that not everyone will get them all and how the disease and symptoms progress will differ from person to person. Symptoms can also vary from day to day and as yet researchers have found no clear reason for this.
Around 70% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a tremor making this one of the most common symptoms and often the first. It usually starts in one limb and can spread to another limb on the same side of the body before progressing to the other side. This progression is gradual and can affect the arms, legs, feet, lips and head.
These tremors, or shakes, usually occur when the body is resting and tend to disappear when a person is moving about. For many people with Parkinson’s it is one of the most embarrassing symptoms because it is one of the most obvious and this in itself can have a psychological impact. The symptom can become worse if a person is anxious or excited.
This is usually an early sign and is sometimes misdiagnosed as arthritis brought on by old age. A person will begin to experience problems getting out of bed or a chair, turning round and achieving fine movements such as doing up a zip or button. Handwriting can become small and illegible (known as mircrographia). Blinking (which the majority of us take for granted) can become difficult as can swallowing which in turn can lead to drooling and possibly choking.
In some people the facial muscles can become stiff resulting in “Parkinson’s face” - an unblinking, blank mask like stare.
Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
As the signals from the brain to the muscles slow down because of lack of dopamine, walking and other movements can become very slow. This is very disabling as it interferes with, and slows down, everyday activities such as showering or dressing. A person may begin to shuffle (called festination) and their steps become shorter and shorter. More than likely they will have problems starting and stopping walking and turning easily. Some sufferers appear to be falling forward. These walking problems are also known as “Parkinson’s gait.”
Some other symptoms which can occur are:
- Loss of balance and co-ordination. Falling over is quite common in people with Parkinson’s because the reflexes that work on posture to keep a person upright become affected. Loss of balance doesn’t tend to occur in early Parkinson’s.
- Pain and tingling sensations
- Painful limbs