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Do You Have These Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease?

Tremor is one of the early signs of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s is a devastating disease that gets worse over time. Uncontrollable shaking can make everyday tasks, like getting dressed or brushing your teeth, harder or impossible. Balance problems might interfere with walking. And it can slow down your thinking and movements.

Parkinson’s disease has no cure. And we’re not clear on what causes Parkinson’s disease. “Age is the biggest risk factor,” shares UVA Health neurologist Binit Shah, MD. Family history plays a role, but it’s very small. We know exposure to certain chemicals increases your risk. But most of the time, doctors don’t know why someone gets Parkinson’s.

Knowing pretty much any of us could get Parkinson’s as we age is scary. But treatment has come a long way, Shah says. The earlier you know you have Parkinson’s, the earlier you can start treatment. Shah shares early signs of Parkinson’s disease to look out for. Plus, what to do if you notice these symptoms.

First Signs of Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder with 3 main types of symptoms:

These early signs are clues you might have Parkinson’s or another neurological disease. You should see your doctor if you notice them.

Sign #1: You Act Out Your Dreams

“Changes to sleep are often seen before motor symptoms,” Shah says. Motor symptoms are those that impact your movements.

These sleep changes are caused by something called REM sleep behavior disorder. They make you punch, kick, or yell in your sleep.

This sleep disorder is often the earliest sign, coming on years before a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Sign #2: You’re Moving Slower

This might look like starting to lag behind on walks with your partner when you never have before.

Or you might have trouble getting one side of your body to move. You could feel stiff or “stuck” when you try to move. Parkinson’s tends to affect one side of your body more than the other, though experts aren’t sure why.

Sign #3: Your Golf Score Is Higher (Or Something Else Is Off)

Take notice of “things that seem out of the ordinary and without another explanation,” Shah says.

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That could take different forms. If you play tennis, you might start missing a lot more serves. Or your average golf score might increase without explanation. 

Sign #4: Your Hands Shake

Involuntary shaking (tremor) is a common symptom of Parkinson’s, though not every patient develops it.

Tremor most commonly affects people’s hands or arms. But it can also affect another body part, like your leg or jaw. It often starts on one side of the body.

The shaking might happen more when you’re resting and get better when you use your hand.

What Should You Do If You Notice Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease?

The best place to start is with your primary care provider, Shah suggests. None of these signs mean you definitely have Parkinson’s. But they’re clues you could have Parkinson’s or another movement disorder. So it’s best to get checked out.

That way, if you do have Parkinson’s, you can get the care you need. Parkinson’s treatment has improved over the years, Shah says. “Before, it was fatal in a short amount of time,” he explains. “Now people can live long, fulfilling lives after their diagnosis.”

Tags: parkinsons

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