» Early Parkinson’s symptoms you need to be aware of Health & Lifestyle
YOU MAY KNOW THE CONDITION CAN CAUSE SHAKES, BUT WOULD YOU RECOGNISE ANY OTHER TELLTALE SIGNS? LIZ CONNOR GETS EXPERT ADVICE
AROUND one in 500 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson’s disease, but many of us are still in the dark when it comes to spotting the signs and symptoms. The neurological condition is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the ‘substantia nigra’. When these cells begin to deteriorate, it causes a reduction of dopamine – a chemical that plays a key role in controlling and coordinating movement in the body.
This damage can lead to the telltale tremors that many of us most associate with the disease, where the hands, arms, legs, lips, jaw or tongue become shaky when not in use. However, Parkinson’s UK
(parkinsons.org.uk) points out it’s not just tremors you need to look for.
The condition can actually affect people in a wide range of ways – in fact, there are over 40 possible symptoms – which the charity is on a mission to highlight with their new campaign, Parkinson’s Is.
Here, Katie Goates, Parkinson’s UK’S communications manager, explains just 10 potential signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s...
1. REDUCED SENSE OF SMELL
WHILE noticing a reduced sense of smell doesn’t mean you’ll develop Parkinson’s, the majority of patients report this unusual symptom.
“For example, you may struggle to smell your favourite foods,” says Katie. “This is a key warning sign, as a loss of smell can occur several years before other symptoms.”
2. DISTURBED SLEEP
“CHANGES in your sleep pattern might be another early sign,” warns Katie. “Sleep and night-time problems are common and can affect you at any stage of the condition, leaving you feeling tired and drowsy during the day.”
Symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, pain and restless legs syndrome, can all disturb sleep.
As sleeping problems can also be caused by mental health problems, like stress, anxiety and depression, it’s worth consulting your GP to get to the root of the cause.
3. FREQUENT URINATION OR CONSTIPATION
BOWEL problems such as cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation are common, but any change to your toilet habits, particularly blood in bowel movements, should be reported to your GP.
“If you have Parkinson’s, you may be more likely to have problems with your bladder or bowels,” says Katie. “Signs of an overactive bladder, such as needing to urinate immediately without warning, or needing to go frequently throughout the night, are common symptoms. These may happen because messages from the brain giving the bladder instructions aren’t getting through properly.”
“THERE are several possible explanations for why people with Parkinson’s might get depression, and it is often difficult to diagnose as its symptoms can be very common and be related to many other factors, including genetics, stress, diet and loneliness.” Katie adds.
“In some cases, people experience depression months before they notice any other Parkinson’s symptoms though.”
FEELINGS of unease, worry and fear can also strike during the onset of Parkinson’s. And this isn’t simply a reaction to the diagnosis but is a key part of the disease itself, caused by changes in the brain.
People with anxiety may experience emotional symptoms, including a sense of dread, constant worry or have difficulty concentrating. Physical symptoms can include sweating, a pounding or racing heart (palpitations), feeling breathless, dizziness or trembling.
FEELINGS of fatigue that don’t go away, however much you rest, can be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s.
“You may feel fit and able one day, and then too fatigued to do much the following day,” notes Katie. “If you’re working, you may feel much more exhausted in the evenings than you used to, and may not have energy to do anything else.”
“TREMOR is one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s and is an uncontrollable movement that affects a part of the body,” says Katie.
“Typically, a Parkinson’s tremor starts in the hand before ‘spreading’ to the rest of the arm, or down to the foot on the same side of the body.”
While there is no cure for a tremor, there are ways to effectively manage the symptoms, so it’s better to get a diagnosis as early as possible.
8. SLOWNESS OF MOVEMENT
EVERYDAY tasks, such as paying for items at the supermarket or walking to a bus stop, might take you longer.
“Slowness of movement – bradykinesia – may mean it takes you longer to do things,” says Katie. “For example, you might struggle with co-ordination, your walking speed may slow or it become more like a shuffle.”
9. DIFFICULTY TURNING OVER IN BED
STIFFNESS and tension in the muscles, which can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions, is a really common symptom.
“Rigidity can stop muscles from stretching and relaxing, it can be particularly noticeable, for example, if you struggle to turn over or get in and out of bed,” advises Katie.
“Because it causes stiff muscles, inflexibility or cramps, people with Parkinson’s also notice it can make it hard to do things like writing, doing up buttons or tying shoe laces.”
She explains that when looking for signs of Parkinson’s, a specialist may observe or ask you about your experiences with any of these movement issues.
“A simple task they may ask you to do is walk around the room, so they can observe if there is a reduction in the natural swing of your arm.”
10. SMALL HANDWRITING
PARKINSON’S causes changes in the brain, and because of this, many people with the condition can find that their movements become smaller and less forceful than before.
A good example is that you may find your writing is smaller than it previously was, or gradually gets smaller as you write.
If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, see your GP – if only to rule it out and put your mind at ease. Your GP will ask about the problems you’re experiencing and may refer you to a specialist for further tests.
■ For advice visit parkinsons.org. uk or call Parkinson’s UK’S free helpline on 0808 800 0303.
Warning signs can include changes in your writing or hand tremors