More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease, but early detection could significantly impact treatment. "As a field, we need to better understand that Parkinson's patients have many choices of therapies and this is a compelling reason why special Parkinsons' doctors are needed," says Michael Okun, MD, Professor of Neurology, University of Florida. "When treated appropriately, we really can make this a livable condition. We need to educate more general practitioners and general neurologists on the basics of tailoring care for Parkinson's disease, and we need to dedicate more money to training more Parkinson-specific neurologists." Here are the earliest signs of Parkinson's, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Trouble With Walking
Sudden issues with gait could be an early symptom of Parkinson's, experts say. "Changes in gait and cognition precede a diagnosis of idiopathic (without known cause) Parkinson's disease, and may occur earlier than typical non-motor symptoms," says Catarina Silva, MSc. "Identifying individuals during the prodromal (early) period that precedes motor symptoms could be of great use for clinical studies seeking new therapies to prevent or delay disease progression."
Stiffness and Slowness
Stiffness and slowness are some of the earliest and most common signs of Parkinson's. "The symptoms of Parkinson's and their degree of severity are different for every person," according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson's Research. "The three 'cardinal' movement, or motor, symptoms are slowness of movement (bradykinesia), stiffness (rigidity) and resting tremor. Not everyone has all three symptoms and not everyone with Parkinson's has tremor. Some people also have walking problems or difficulty with balance and coordination."
Sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction could be a symptom of Parkinson's. "Parkinson's contributes to sexual dysfunction through physical, psychological and pharmacological effects," says Rachel Dolhun, MD. "Fatigue, bradykinesia and rigidity can make sexual activity more challenging. Tremor and dyskinesia can cause discomfort, especially as these symptoms naturally increase with excitement. Depression, often associated with PD, can lessen sex drive. Body image issues, shifting roles and changes in appearance secondary to Parkinson's are additional mental factors."
Depression and Anxiety
"Depression and anxiety are common non-motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's," says Dr. Dolhun. "They can be experienced after a diagnosis or while adjusting to changing symptoms, but they also are part of the underlying disease itself. Depression can cause shifts in mood, energy or thinking as well as fluctuations in appetite, weight or sleep. Anxiety may lead to excessive worry or concern. Both may be managed with medication, talk therapy and/or behavioral strategies, such as regular exercise and social activities.
Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are strongly linked to Parkinson's disease. "Sleep disturbances are a common non-motor symptom of Parkinson's disease (PD) that may cause difficulty falling or staying asleep," says Dr. Dolhun. "It's important to recognize and treat them not only to ensure general health is optimized, but also to maximize Parkinson's management. Sleep in PD can be affected by motor or non-motor symptoms, medication side effects, or associated conditions such as restless legs syndrome or REM sleep behavior disorder."