Because Parkinson’s affects the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, it affects muscular control, hence it is a movement disorder. Of course, Parkinson’s affects people in different ways. Some people may experience only tremors, whereas other people manifest severe bradykinesia. Not everyone experiences every type of muscular problem. And, for some, the disease progresses relatively quickly.
Common symptoms of Parkinson’s
Symptoms of Parkinson’s may manifest as slow movements, difficulty with balance, stiffness of muscles, and tremors. These muscle difficulties may be especially noticeable in fine motor movements, such as writing. But, Parkinson’s symptoms can also affect actions that utilize large muscle groups, such as in the legs during walking. Let’s take a look at these different types of symptoms to better understand what to look for.
Bradykinesia, or slow movements – Slow movement may especially be observed while walking, where a person with Parkinson’s may appear to shuffle their feet. Or, movements of the face can also be slower, such as blinking or expressions. In fact, some people have such difficulty with facial expressions that they develop a ‘poker face’ or may even find it impossible to swallow. In worse case scenarios, a person feels as if his/her movements are frozen, thus not allowing a person to physically get out of bed or eat.
Difficulty with balance – Balance problems include the possibility of falling down to an inability to properly balance. This is especially true when a person changes directions.
Stiffness – People with Parkinson’s disease can experience stiffness of the arms, legs, and torso. In a healthy functioning body, arm muscles are never fully tensed during walking. During Parkinson’s, muscles may always be tensed and can decrease movement (e.g. the swinging of the arms when walking). Pain and cramping also manifest during Parkinson’s.
Tremors – One of the most recognized symptoms of Parkinson, tremors occur especially in the arms and hands, legs, and head. In fact, 70% of all persons with Parkinson’s disease experience tremors. During the early stages of Parkinson’s, tremors are most noticeable. Muscle tremors usually occur in resting muscles that are not doing any work. Once a person begins a purposeful action with their hand or body part, the tremor subsides. ‘Resting tremors’ may spread from one side of the body to the other as the disease progresses over time.
Other problems in addition to these main four types of muscular difficulties may arise, including:
Other symptoms may develop in conjunction with the primary, muscular symptoms of Parkinson’s. These may include cognitive difficulties. It’s not clear why Parkinson’s affects cognition in addition to muscular functions. However, some scientists speculate that brain chemistry changes involving dopamine may affect how different parts of the brain communicate to each other. Additionally, some emotional symptoms, such as depression, may result as a person feels a loss of control over his or her own life. Let’s take a look at these related symptoms:
When to seek help
If you notice that you are experiencing symptoms that may be for Parkinson’s, see your doctor. The sooner that you see your doctor, then the sooner you can begin treatment. Also, by seeing your doctor, you’ll be able to determine if you have Parkinson’s or another condition. For information on how doctors diagnose signs of Parkinson Disease, read the How to Diagnose Parkinson’s section that follows.