5 Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease You Didn’t Know About

Look out for some of the less­er-known signs that you may have Parkinson’s disease

Tremors, expres­sion­less appear­ance, slow move­ments – if you ask some­one to describe Parkinson’s dis­ease, they might start with these com­mon symptoms. 

Parkinson’s dis­ease is a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­der — a con­di­tion where parts of your ner­vous sys­tem (espe­cial­ly your brain) dete­ri­o­rate over time and cause pro­gres­sive­ly worse symp­toms. The dis­ease is per­haps most well-known for how it affects move­ment and mus­cle control. 

How­ev­er, there are many signs that aren’t quite as well-known. Know­ing these signs — par­tic­u­lar­ly the ear­li­er signs — is crit­i­cal for ear­ly diag­no­sis. While there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, there are many treat­ments to man­age symp­toms. Get­ting diag­nosed ear­ly could mean hav­ing more treat­ment options or that the treat­ments might be more effec­tive. It’s also been sug­gest­ed that ear­ly treat­ment could delay the onset of some symptoms. 

Here are some of the less­er-known ear­ly signs that you may have Parkinson’s disease: 

1. Your hand­writ­ing is small­er than usual. 

If your writ­ing has been shrink­ing in size or becom­ing cramped, it might be due to Parkinson’s. This is called micro­graphia. It’s a hall­mark of Parkinson’s, and it’s often among the ear­li­er signs. 

Micro­graphia is caused by the brain dam­age that leads to oth­er motor symp­toms of Parkinson’s. These symp­toms, includ­ing tremors, slow move­ments, and rigid­i­ty, can also make the act of writ­ing more difficult. 

Once you’ve been diag­nosed with Parkinson’s, some of the med­ica­tions you take to help con­trol move­ments may improve your writ­ing. You might also ben­e­fit from strate­gies like using lined paper and prac­tic­ing writ­ing a page once a day. 

2. Your speak­ing voice has changed. 

Voice and speech prob­lems are com­mon in peo­ple with Parkinson’s — between 75% and 90% of peo­ple with Parkinson’s devel­op these prob­lems at some point. Dif­fi­cul­ty speak­ing may be one of the first signs. 

Speech changes can hap­pen with Parkinson’s because the dis­ease caus­es the move­ments in your mouth, face, throat, and chest that you use to speak to become small­er and slow­er. Also, Parkinson’s symp­toms like changes in think­ing can affect your speech by mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to find the right word or start a sentence. 

If you’re hav­ing trou­ble speak­ing, you may find it help­ful to work with a speech-lan­guage pathol­o­gist. Speech-lan­guage pathol­o­gists are experts at treat­ing the voice and com­mu­ni­ca­tion issues caused by Parkinson’s.

If you are expe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms relat­ed to Parkinson’s dis­ease, make an appoint­ment with a Duly Health and Care pri­ma­ry care provider.

3. You’re los­ing your sense of smell. 

Reduced sense of smell (hypos­mia) is com­mon with Parkinson’s. It can cause dif­fi­cul­ty detect­ing cer­tain smells or prob­lems dis­tin­guish­ing smells from one anoth­er. It can also lead to changes in your sense of taste. While hypos­mia is not a sign that peo­ple are often famil­iar with at first, it’s not uncom­mon for peo­ple with Parkinson’s to real­ize that they start­ed los­ing their sense of smell years or even decades before their diagnosis. 

The exact rea­son why Parkinson’s affects smell has been debat­ed. Recent research has shown that it may be due to prob­lems in the olfac­to­ry bulb, which is the part of the brain that con­trols smell. 

There isn’t a treat­ment for hypos­mia relat­ed to Parkinson’s, but if it’s affect­ing your taste and appetite, you may want to work with your provider on ensur­ing that you’re still meet­ing all your nutri­tion­al needs. 

Also read: Your Parkinson’s Dynam­ic Duo: How Neu­rol­o­gy & Phys­i­cal Ther­a­py work togeth­er to treat Parkinson’s Dis­ease

4. You’ve been a bit backed up. 

Con­sti­pa­tion may be one of the more uncom­fort­able ear­ly signs of Parkinson’s. Like hypos­mia, it can start years before devel­op­ing motor symptoms. 

Parkinson’s may cause changes in the nerve cells in your spinal cord and the wall of your intestines, slow­ing down the mus­cles respon­si­ble for push­ing food through your diges­tive tract. Also, if Parkinson’s has start­ed to affect move­ment, you may be less phys­i­cal­ly active than you were before — and not get­ting enough phys­i­cal activ­i­ty is a known cause of constipation. 

There are sev­er­al ways to pre­vent con­sti­pa­tion, such as: 

• Drink­ing six or more 8‑ounce glass­es of water each day
• Eat­ing small­er meals dur­ing the day
• Increas­ing the amount of fiber in your diet
• Reduc­ing low-fiber starchy foods, like cook­ies or bread
• Get­ting more exer­cise
• Drink­ing warm bev­er­ages, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the morning 

Your provider might rec­om­mend occa­sion­al­ly using over-the-counter med­ica­tions like stool soft­en­ers or lax­a­tives, but they should not be used every day for a long peri­od of time. 

Also read: Stay­ing Active: Hob­bies and Exer­cis­es For Parkinson’s Dis­ease

5. You can’t fall asleep. 

A bout of insom­nia (dif­fi­cul­ty falling or stay­ing asleep) is nor­mal every now and then, and usu­al­ly isn’t cause for con­cern. But fre­quent insom­nia could be a sign of a med­ical con­di­tion like Parkinson’s.

In addi­tion to insom­nia, Parkinson’s can cause a num­ber of oth­er sleep problems: 

• Extreme sleepi­ness dur­ing the day
• REM sleep behav­ior dis­or­der, which involves act­ing out — like yelling, punch­ing, or get­ting out of bed — while you’re asleep
• Inter­rup­tions in breath­ing when sleep­ing (sleep apnea)
• Dis­com­fort in your legs while you’re lying down that only gets bet­ter with move­ment (rest­less legs syn­drome?)
• Get­ting up often to use the bathroom 

For­tu­nate­ly, there are plen­ty of meth­ods for improv­ing sleep — from set­ting a con­sis­tent bed­time to avoid­ing cer­tain foods right before bed to rethink­ing your sleep environment. 

Hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty sleep­ing, or any of the oth­er ear­ly signs, is hard­ly a guar­an­tee that you have Parkinson’s dis­ease. You may have a dif­fer­ent med­ical con­di­tion or sim­ply be expe­ri­enc­ing the effects of get­ting old­er. Before jump­ing to con­clu­sions, let your provider know about your symp­toms. Whether they’re due to Parkinson’s dis­ease or some­thing else, they can help you man­age symp­toms and stay healthy. 

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