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Parkinson's Disease

What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?

The Brain

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It persists over a long time, and its symptoms grow progressively worse. At least 500,000 people in the United States currently have Parkinson's at a total annual cost of more than $6 billion.

Symptoms begin gradually and worsen over time. Patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Not everyone with these symptoms has Parkinson's; they can appear in other disorders.

Parkinson's symptoms do not affect everyone the same way. Their rate and severity differ among individuals. Early signs may be subtle and occur gradually. People may have mild shaking or difficulty rising from a chair. Activities may take longer than normal to complete, and there may be some stiffness and slowness. People may speak too softly or have slow, cramped handwriting. In time, however, the more obvious motor symptoms appear.

Friends or family members may notice changes first. The person's face may lack expression and animation; he or she may move more slowly. As the disease progresses, the symptoms may begin to interfere with daily activities.

People with Parkinson's often tend to walk leaning forward, in small quick steps as if hurrying, and with reduced swinging of the arms. They also may have trouble starting to walk (hesitation) and stop suddenly (freezing).

Symptoms typically begin on one side of the body. Eventually both sides are affected. Even after both sides are involved, symptoms are often less severe on one side than the other.

Numerous other symptoms may accompany Parkinson's, including depression, anxiety, loss of motivation, and dependency; difficulty chewing and swallowing; speech difficulties; skin problems; urinary problems or constipation; sleep problems; dementia or other cognitive issues; sudden drops in blood pressure resulting in dizziness; muscle cramps, especially in the legs and toes; twisted, frozen postures; fatigue and loss of energy; sexual dysfunction; and pain, especially aching muscles and joints.

Parkinson's disease has four main symptoms:

Tremor. Shaking that often begins in a hand, although sometimes a foot or the jaw is affected first. Characteristically, it is a rhythmic back-and-forth "pill rolling" motion of the thumb and forefinger. It is most obvious when the hand is at rest or when a person is under stress. Tremor usually disappears during sleep or improves with intentional movement.
Rigidity. The muscles remain tensed and contracted; the person aches or feels stiff. The arm moves in short, jerky measures, like a cogwheel.
Bradykinesia. Bradykinesia is the slowing of spontaneous and automatic movement. For example, washing, dressing, and other daily activities become difficult and take longer than normal.
Postural instability. This impairs balance and causes affected individuals to fall more easily.
Read More "Living Well with Parkinson's Disease is an Art" Articles

Living Well with Parkinson's Disease is an Art / Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease / Michael J. Fox: Spurring Research on Parkinson's / Diagnosis and Treatment / Research

Winter 2014 Issue: Volume 8 Number 4 Page 6