Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects mainly coordination. While it is associated with abnormally low levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that helps regulate movement, researchers are not yet sure what causes the brain cells responsible for making dopamine break down.
What are the Symptoms?
Parkinson’s disease has a wide array of symptoms that vary from patient to patient. They also change as the patient progresses, and not all of them affect the patient’s motor skills. Parkinson’s disease is an insidious condition that develops slowly, so the early symptoms often go unnoticed, even by the patient.
The best-known and most common symptom is tremor. The patient will experience an involuntary shaking of a body part while they are awake and standing still or sitting. Moving often makes the tremor go away. The tremor usually affects a hand, arm or leg, but it can also involve the lips, tongue or chin. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, the tremor usually only affects one body part on one side of the body. As the disease progresses, the tremor may remain confined to one side of the body, or it may start to affect both sides.
Other common symptoms of Parkinson’s include:
Stiff and aching muscles. People with Parkinson’s disease often notice they have trouble swinging one arm while walking due to rigid muscles in that arm. Parkinson’s can also make the muscles of the legs, neck or face become abnormally stiff.
Trouble walking. In severe cases, people with Parkinson’s disease generally develop problems with their balance and posture, and they become prone to falling. They tend to shuffle or take small steps while bending forward. They also have trouble turning around.
Limited and slow movement. A patient with Parkinson’s disease may find it hard to start moving from a resting position. They may, for example, have trouble turning over in bed or getting out of a chair.
Freezing or motor block. This is a brief and sudden inability to move at all. It usually affects walking, but it can also affect writing or speech. It is also one of the later symptoms.
Weakened throat and face muscles. The patient may find it harder to talk or swallow. Their voice becomes soft and/or hoarse, and they speak in a monotone voice. The patient may also drool, cough or choke. As the facial muscles lose their strength and mobility, the patient develops the “Parkinson’s mask,” a characteristic vacant look with a fixed stare.
Still other symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease include trouble sleeping, a sudden loss of the sense of smell, constipation and dizziness or fainting. People with Parkinson’s may also notice sudden changes in their handwriting, as the words become more crowded and the writing smaller.
How is the Disease Diagnosed?
Our medical professional will perform both a physical and neurological exam. During the latter, they will test the patient’s balance and coordination. They will observe the patient’s movements, and they will watch for signs of tremor. While there are no laboratory tests that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease, the doctor may order various tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.