Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s


When we notice something unusual happening in our bodies, it can be tempting to ignore it and hope for the best. The logic in that is that your body always has little quirks and pains, and most of the time, they turn out to be nothing. However, early detection of any medical condition improves our chances of recovery or successful mitigation of symptoms.

Applied to Parkinson’s Disease, early detection and treatment is key to slowing the progression.

So what are the early warning signs of Parkinson’s? When should Parkinson’s home care services be considered? 

While tremors are one of Parkinson’s most well-known characteristics, other warning signs can post to early stages of the disease. This guide will go over some of the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s. If you notice any of these indicators in yourself or a loved one, don’t panic. As always, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Also read our blog posts addressing the differences between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as Essential Tremor vs. Parkinson’s as these disases have overlaping symptoms and are commonly confused. 

Early Warning Signs

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Parkinson’s can be difficult to live with as symptoms can affect a patient’s daily life. Symptoms also progress and get worse with time. However, with monitoring and treatment, this progression can be slowed and patients can continue living with good to great quality of life.

Since there’s no definitive cause of Parkinson’s and no test that can predict the onset of the disease, it is important to monitor yourself for symptoms. The presence of any one of these symptoms does not mean you or your loved one has Parkinson’s. However, if you notice one or more of them persistently, see your doctor. That way, you can receive a diagnosis and start any necessary treatment as early as possible.

Tremors

Tremors are probably the symptom most often associated with Parkinson’s. While the image you have in your head may be of large, full-body tremors, early tremors will likely be small and occur in your finger, thumb, hand, chin, or foot. 

Note the following about Parkinson’s-related tremors:

  • During the early stages, the only person who may be able to notice a tremor is a person who is experiencing it. It will not be outwardly visible to others.
  • Tremors will be most noticeable when at rest.
  • Tremors will worsen and become more noticeable as the disease progresses.

Many other issues that have no relation to Parkinson’s can cause tremors. These include stress, exhaustion, and side effects of some medications.

Difficulty Sleeping

As noted, tremors are most common when at rest.

If you experience uncontrollable movement while you’re in bed, it can be difficult to achieve a good night’s sleep. 

Trouble sleeping caused by Parkinson’s differs from insomnia. It is classified as an REM behavior disorder and will often lead to jerking or kicking during the night.

An unusual amount of thrashing during the night is a cause for concern, as is falling out of the bed. Since the movement occurs during sleep, it may be something first noticed by a spouse or partner.

Small Handwriting

This doesn’t mean if you have naturally small handwriting you are at risk for Parkinson’s.

While the size of your handwriting has no correlation with Parkinson’s on its own, if you notice your handwriting becoming smaller, this could be an early indicator of Parkinson’s.

  • Your handwriting may start to appear more cramped and letters may be smaller than you would usually write them.
  • In the course of one written word or sentence, you may notice that you start normally and the letters gradually shrink as you continue to write.

Handwriting can also change simply because as we get older, our vision changes and our fingers stiffen. That means small handwriting may have nothing to do with any underlying disease. But, as with other symptoms on this list, it’s worth getting checked out.

Loss of Smell

Not all symptoms of Parkinson’s will affect your motor abilities and, in fact, the loss of smell could be one of the earliest symptoms noticeable, occurring years before any motor symptoms arise.

  • Many other conditions such as the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19 can cause loss of smell.
  • Patients with no other underlying cause for their loss of smell have a ~50% chance of developing Parkinson’s in the next five to ten years.

Trouble Moving

Parkinson’s can cause unwanted movement and loss of motion.

Since Parkinson’s tends to occur more in older individuals, it can be difficult to separate the stiffness and movement trouble associated with normal aging from that which could be a sign of underlying disease. If you feel stiffness that doesn’t alleviate at all as you go on with your day, see your primary care physician.

Look out in particular for the following signs:

  • Stiff shoulders or hips – If you lose mobility in your shoulders or hips, you could be experiencing an early sign of Parkinson’s. Many people slouch or suffer from poor posture, but if you notice your posture changing for no underlying reason, this could be a subtle early sign that your movement abilities are being affected by Parkinson’s.
  • Shuffling – Some patients describe feeling like their feet are stuck to the floor, which leads to a shuffling gait.
  • Lack of arm swing when walking – You may notice a change in how your arms swing when you move or a jerkiness that develops in your body.

Constipation

Constipation is a common problem that can have many underlying causes as simple as not having enough water or fiber in your diet. 

Persistent constipation can be the sign of something more serious and, especially in conjunction with any other symptoms, should not be ignored.

Vocal Changes

People with advanced stages of Parkinson’s may slur their speech and be difficult to understand, but early signs may be as subtle as speaking more quietly or in a lower tone than you usually do.

  • Since you are not intending to speak quietly, it may be hard for you to recognize this in yourself and you may dismiss it as others simply not hearing you.
  • In addition to sounding quiet or low-pitched, people may say you sound hoarse or are speaking with little to no inflection.

While vocal changes can also be a natural result of aging, pay attention to this in conjunction with your other symptoms.

Masked Face

Since Parkinson’s affects movement, the small muscles in your face may struggle to react like they normally do. This can lead to your face having a blank stare or looking serious even in lighthearted situations.

This is another symptom that can be hard for you to notice on your own, but if others start mentioning that you look overly serious or blank in ways that don’t fit with how you feel, this could be a sign of Parkinson’s.

Fainting and Dizziness

Frequent fainting or dizziness are often the signs of low blood pressure. There are many factors that can cause low blood pressure, including Parkinson’s, and regardless of the cause, it’s something worth addressing with your doctor.

Depression and Anxiety

If you start to feel depressed or anxious (and have no prior history with these conditions), you should see someone to discuss how you’re feeling.

Parkinson’s is one of many conditions that could cause the onset of these feelings, but no matter their cause, they’re not something you should ignore.

What Causes Parkinson’s?

If you’ve gone through the above list and begun to wonder whether you or someone you know might have Parkinson’s, it’s helpful to know more about the factors that increase risk.

The cause of Parkinson’s is not yet known. However, the following seem to play a role:

 

  • Genetics – Certain gene variations can increase someone’s risk of developing Parkinson’s. However, each genetic marker only slightly elevates an individual’s risk. Having one of these gene variations does not guarantee you will develop Parkinson’s.
  • Environmental factors – Exposure to certain toxins has been shown to raise a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s. Again, this only raises the risk slightly and exposure does not guarantee someone will develop the disease. 

 

In addition to these causal factors, other risk factors increase your chances of developing the disease:

 

  • Heredity – In addition to genetic variations, your family history may increase your Parkinson’s risk. If you have a close relative who developed Parkinson’s, your risk is slightly higher. That said, your risk is still low unless you have multiple relatives who have all developed the disease.
  • Age – It is rare for Parkinson’s to develop in the young. As you age, your risk for the disease goes up. Most cases are diagnosed in patients who are 60 years old or older. 

    Sex – Parkinson’s occurs in both men and women, but it is more prevalent in men.

 

If you’re worried that you or a loved one is at risk, the best course of action is to consult with a physician.

Alliance Homecare for When You Need Help

Early detection of Parkinson’s can ensure you get treatment and keep the disease progression at bay. If you have any worries, see your doctor so you can get a formal diagnosis. This will give you the best chance of going on with your normal life. 

However, if it does come to the point where you need extra help, we at Alliance Homecare are here to provide it. 

Along with informational guides for recovery, like our post detailing coordination exercise for Parkinson’s patients, we’ll work with you, in person, to provide the resources and support you need to avoid accidents and injuries. With in home nurse care, you’ll feel confident and cared for as you adjust to living with your condition.

 

Sources: 

  1. Parkinson’s Foundation. What Is Parkinson’s? https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons 
  2. Mayo Clinic. Parkinson’s Disease. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055 
  3. Healthline. Small Handwriting and Other Early Signs of Parkinson’s. https://www.healthline.com/health/parkinsons-warning-signs 
  4. Parkinson’s Foundation. 10 Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease. https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/10-early-warning-signs 
  5. Mayo Clinic. Parkinson’s Disease: Q&A About Early Warning Signs. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/parkinsons-disease/parkinsons-disease-q-a-about-early-warning-signs 

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