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Signs You Have Parkinson's Disease, According to Experts

Neurologist explains how to manage symptoms of Parkinson's and signs you have the disease. 
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Parkinson's Disease is a brain disorder that can severely affect movement and according to the Parkinson's Foundation, nearly one million Americans live with the disease. "Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year. More than 10 million people worldwide are living with PD. Incidence of Parkinson's disease increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with PD are diagnosed before age 50. Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson's disease than women," they state. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Sameea Husain Wilson, director of movement disorder neurology at Baptist Health's Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital who explained causes of Parkinson's, how to manage symptoms and signs you have the disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What is Parkinson's Disease?

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Dr. Wilson explains, "Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that predominantly affects dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery — often to control tremors that can be debilitating. Parkinson's itself is not fatal, but disease complications can be serious. About one million are living with Parkinson's in the U.S. and about 60,000 are diagnosed each year. Additionally, diagnoses of the disease are on the increase, including in those under 50 years of age."

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2

Risk Factors and Causes of the Disease — Including Genetics and the Environment

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According to Dr. Wilson, "Risk factors in the development of Parkinson's disease include advancing age (over age 50); gender, as males are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease; heredity linkages, such as the LRRK2 mutation found in certain populations such as Ashkenazi Jews or the North African Berberi tribe; exposure to toxins found in rural areas; well water; herbicides; and pesticides.

Environmental factors play a role in the causation of Parkinson's disease because exposure to certain heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides can do damage to the basal ganglia where dopamine is produced which thereby can result in the development of Parkinson's disease.

Genetic factors play a role in the causation of Parkinson's disease as a result of faulty genes being passed along to a child through the parents."

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3

Common Symptoms Patients Should Be Aware of and Not Mistake for Normal Signs of Aging

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Dr. Wilson says, "It is very difficult to tell the difference between normal aging in the development of Parkinson's disease. Therefore, any symptoms involving slowness of movement, mobility, rigidity in the limbs, resting, postural or kinetic tremors, stooped posture and her gait imbalance should be immediately evaluated by a movement disorder provider."

The Parkinson's Foundation also lists the following symptoms as signs to watch out for:

Tremor

"Have you noticed a slight shaking or tremor in your finger, thumb, hand or chin? A tremor while at rest is a common early sign of Parkinson's disease.

What is normal?

Shaking can be normal after lots of exercise, if you are stressed or if you have been injured. Shaking could also be caused by a medicine you take.

Small Handwriting

Has your handwriting gotten much smaller than it was in the past? You may notice the way you write words on a page has changed, such as letter sizes are smaller and the words are crowded together. A change in handwriting may be a sign of Parkinson's disease called micrographia.

What is normal?

Sometimes writing can change as you get older, if you have stiff hands or fingers or poor vision.

Loss of Smell

Have you noticed you no longer smell certain foods very well? If you seem to have more trouble smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson's.

What is normal?

Your sense of smell can be changed by a cold, flu or a stuffy nose, but it should come back when you are better.

Read more about loss of smell.

Trouble Sleeping

Do you thrash around in bed or act out dreams when you are deeply asleep? Sometimes, your spouse will notice or will want to move to another bed. Sudden movements during sleep may be a sign of Parkinson's disease.

What is normal?

It is normal for everyone to have a night when they 'toss and turn' instead of sleeping. Similarly, quick jerks of the body when initiation sleep or when in lighter sleep are common and often normal.

Trouble Moving or Walking

Do you feel stiff in your body, arms or legs? Have others noticed that your arms don't swing like they used to when you walk? Sometimes stiffness goes away as you move. If it does not, it can be a sign of Parkinson's disease. An early sign might be stiffness or pain in your shoulder or hips. People sometimes say their feet seem 'stuck to the floor.'

What is normal?

If you have injured your arm or shoulder, you may not be able to use it as well until it is healed, or another illness like arthritis might cause the same symptom.

Constipation

Do you have trouble moving your bowels without straining every day? Straining to move your bowels can be an early sign of Parkinson's disease and you should talk to your doctor.

What is normal?

If you do not have enough water or fiber in your diet, it can cause problems in the bathroom. Also, some medicines, especially those used for pain, will cause constipation. If there is no other reason such as diet or medicine that would cause you to have trouble moving your bowels, you should speak with your doctor.

A Soft or Low Voice

Have other people told you that your voice is very soft or that you sound hoarse? If there has been a change in your voice you should see your doctor about whether it could be Parkinson's disease. Sometimes you might think other people are losing their hearing, when really you are speaking more softly.

What is normal?

A chest cold or other virus can cause your voice to sound different, but you should go back to sounding the same when you get over your cough or cold.

Masked Face

Have you been told that you have a serious, depressed or mad look on your face, even when you are not in a bad mood? This is often called facial masking. If so, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson's disease.

What is normal?

Some medicines can cause you to have the same type of serious or staring look, but you would go back to the way you were after you stopped the medication.

Dizziness or Fainting

Do you notice that you often feel dizzy when you stand up out of a chair? Feeling dizzy or fainting can be a sign of low blood pressure and can be linked to Parkinson's disease (PD).

What is normal?

Everyone has had a time when they stood up and felt dizzy, but if it happens on a regular basis you should see your doctor.

Stooping or Hunching Over

Are you not standing up as straight as you used to? If you or your family or friends notice that you seem to be stooping, leaning or slouching when you stand, it could be a sign of Parkinson's disease (PD).

What is normal?

If you have pain from an injury or if you are sick, it might cause you to stand crookedly. Also, a problem with your bones can make you hunch over."

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4

How Exercise Helps Manage Symptoms

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Dr. Wilson explains, "Exercise, especially the stationary bike and yoga, has been shown to benefit a Parkinson's patient akin to medications. As we all know there is a higher risk of falls due to gait imbalance in Parkinson's disease therefore in order to avoid fractures it is important to maintain proper nutrition so that you maintain your bone density and keep your weight stable."

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5

Common Misconceptions of Parkinson's Disease

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Dr. Wilson shares, "The most common misconception that I encounter is that Parkinson's disease is a disease of the elderly.  I have diagnosed Parkinson's patients in their early 30s, up to 99 years of age and everything in between. The second most common misconception that I encounter is that Parkinson's disease is fatal.  It is important to note that people do not die of Parkinson's disease but rather die due to complications of having Parkinson's disease. Car accidents, heart attacks and strokes are still the most common causes of fatality."

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6

Tips for Coping with a Parkinson's Diagnosis

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Dr. Wilson states, "It is very important to know that with the proper support team around a Parkinson's disease patient, it is absolutely possible to achieve a wonderful quality of life.  Patient has always remarked that they have never felt better in her life and this is after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.  This is because the patient's make choices to better themselves and their overall health in a way that they never did before once the diagnosis is made."

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7

New Advances in the Management of Parkinson's Disease

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"The pharmaceutical companies are always studying new and advanced ways to deliver dopamine to the brain of a Parkinson's disease patient," says Dr. Wilson. "In addition to oral dopamine medications, there are now medications that deliver dopamine through an inhaler and through a sublingual film. There have also been advances in the development of  extended release dopaminergic medications and medications to decrease OFF time."

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Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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