The most well known symptom of Parkinson’s disease is tremors, but there are surprising early signs you might fail to recognise.
Lesser known changes – such as your handwriting getting smaller – may develop in the disease’s early stages.
Other unfamiliar symptoms include losing your sense of smell and sleep problems, including experiencing vivid dreams.
April is awareness month for the long-term degenerative disorder.
Tanith Muller, Parliamentary and Campaigns Manager at Parkinson’s UK Scotland, says most people know very little about the disease.
“Parkinson’s has over 40 recognised symptoms and everyone is different,” she told the Daily Record.
There currently isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s, but treatment can help manage some parts of the condition.
Tanith continued: “Many people associate Parkinson’s with tremor – but living with Parkinson’s is so much more than that. Imagine not being able to move, sleep, or smile.
“Feeling anxious or depressed and struggling to think or remember. Your body not feeling like your own. This is what Parkinson’s can feel like.”
The charity says there are 12,000 people with the disease in Scotland and 30 people are expected to be diagnosed every week.
She added: “If you’re worried that you or someone you know might have Parkinson’s, the most important thing is to speak to your GP about it.
“And there are lots of things that you can do to make life better. It’s never too late, but often the sooner you start, the more of a difference you can make.”
Read on Parkinson’s UK’s list of early signs – starting with seven lesser known symptoms.
10 early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
1. Problems with your sleep
Sleep and night-time problems are common in Parkinson’s.
People with Parkinson’s are more likely to experience insomnia due to certain symptoms which can disrupt sleep.
These include tremor, stiffness, pain and restless leg syndrome. If sleep is affected, people may also feel tired and drowsy during the day.
Tanith adds that having very vivid dreams is a possible sleep issue.
2. Losing your sense of smell
Someone with Parkinson’s may notice that their sense of smell may not be as strong as it was or has disappeared.
For example, someone may struggle to smell their favourite foods.
Loss of smell can sometimes start years before other symptoms develop.
3. Small handwriting
Because of changes in the brain, people with Parkinson’s can find that their movements become smaller and less forceful than before.
This can lead to someone’s handwriting becoming smaller than it previously was or gradually getting smaller as they write.
4. Constipation and bladder problems
If you have Parkinson’s, you may be more likely to have problems with your bladder or bowels.
Signs of an overactive bladder, such as needing to use the toilet immediately without warning, or needing to go frequently throughout the night, are the most common bladder symptoms of people with Parkinson’s.
You may have depression if you are experiencing feelings of extreme sadness or a sense of emotional ’emptiness’ for a long time.
It’s more than a temporary feeling of sadness, unhappiness or frustration.
In some cases, people with Parkinson’s may experience depression months before they notice any other symptoms.
Depression can also be a symptom of ‘non-motor fluctuations’ – in other words, when the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s can increase or fall depending on medication timing.
This happens when the effects of levodopa ‘wear off’ before the next dose is due.
People with Parkinson’s may experience anxiety, including feelings of unease, such as worry or fear – particularly in the early stages of the condition.
Any concerns that someone has about living with a long-term condition may cause anxiety.
Common symptoms of anxiety include: a sense of dread, constant worry or difficulty concentrating, sweating, pounding or racing heart (palpitations), feeling breathless, dizziness or trembling.
Feelings of fatigue – tiredness that doesn’t go away however much someone rests – affect up to half of people with Parkinson’s.
You may feel quite fit and able one day and then too fatigued to do much the following day.
If you’re working, for example, you may feel much more exhausted in the evenings than you used to, and you may not want to do anything else.
Fatigue in Parkinson’s is thought to be caused by chemical changes in the brain.
It may also be related to other symptoms or features of the condition, such as tremor, stiffness or feelings of stress.
Mental (cognitive) fatigue can be another symptom.
Some people may find it hard to concentrate for a long time without a break.
Other typical symptoms of Parkinson’s
Tremor is an uncontrollable movement that affects a part of the body.
A Parkinson’s tremor typically starts in the hand before ‘spreading’ to affect the rest of the arm, or down to the foot on the same side of the body.
There is no cure for a tremor, but there are ways to manage the symptom with support from a specialist or Parkinson’s nurse.
9. Slowness of movement
Slowness of movement – also known as ‘bradykinesia’ – may mean that it takes someone with Parkinson’s longer to do things.
For example, they might struggle with coordination, walking may become more like a shuffle or walking speed may slow down.
Everyday tasks, such as paying for items at a check-out or walking to a bus stop, might take longer to do.
Parkinson’s causes stiff muscles, inflexibility and cramps.
This can make certain tasks such as writing, doing up buttons or tying shoe laces, hard to do.
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.
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