Information on Parkinson's Symptoms

Below, we discuss the most common symptoms of PD. Remember that, although these are the typical symptoms of PD, they can vary greatly from individual to individual—both in terms of their intensity and how they progress. Motor symptoms generally involve movement, while non-motor symptoms do not.

What are the primary motor symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?

There are five primary motor symptoms of PD: tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slow movement), postural instability (balance problems), and walking/gait problems. Observing one or more of these symptoms is the main way that physicians diagnose PD.

It is important to know that not all of these symptoms must be present for a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease to be considered. In fact, younger people may only notice one or two of these motor symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. Not everyone with PD has a tremor, nor is a tremor proof of Parkinson's. If you suspect PD, see a neurologist or movement disorders specialist.

• Tremors

Characteristically occurring at rest, the classic slow, rhythmic tremor of PD typically starts in one hand, foot, or leg and eventually affects both sides of the body. The resting tremor of PD can also occur in the jaw, chin, mouth, or tongue. In addition, some people with PD can experience a feeling of internal tremor, which is not necessarily noticeable to others.

Read Dave's story about his Parkinson's tremors

• RigidityAPDA-doctor-cta-WgU.png

Rigidity refers to a tightness or stiffness of the limbs or torso. Rigidity, especially in the early stages of PD, may be wrongly attributed to arthritis or orthopedic problems, such as a rotator cuff injury.

• Bradykinesia

Greek for "slow movement," bradykinesia is a frequent symptom of PD and related movement disorders. In addition to a general slowness of movement, the bradykinesia of PD is typically demonstrated by a reduced or mask-like expression of the face (hypomimia or facial masking), a decreased blink rate of the eyes, and problems with fine motor coordination (for example, difficulties buttoning a shirt). Having trouble turning over in bed and slow, small handwriting (micrographia) are other signs of bradykinesia.

• Postural Instability

More pronounced in the later stages of PD, postural instability includes the inability to maintain a steady, upright posture or to prevent a fall. Such balance problems in PD are associated with a tendency to list or fall backward (retropulsion); in fact, a light push can cause the individual with PD to continue stepping backward or to even fall down.

• Walking or Gait Difficulties

Bradykinesia and postural instability both contribute to walking—or gait—difficulties in PD, particularly as the disease progresses. A common, early symptom of PD is a decrease in the natural swing of one or both arms when walking. Later, steps may become slow and small, and a shuffling gait (festination) may appear. Gait problems in PD can also include a tendency to propel forward with rapid, short steps (propulsion). People with advanced PD may experience episodes of freezing, in which the feet appear to be glued to the floor.

Vocal Symptoms

In addition to the five core motor symptoms of PD, changes in the voice are commonly experienced in PD. Generally, these are believed to be at least partly due to bradykinesia. In PD, the voice may become softer, or it may start off strong and then fade away. There may be a loss of the normal variation in volume and emotion in the voice, so that the individual may speak in a monotone. In more advanced PD, speaking may become rapid, with the words crowded together, or stuttering may occur.

Read more about the vocal affects of PD

What are some of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's?

Because PD is a type of movement disorder, the associated non-motor symptoms can be overlooked. However, there are several common symptoms of PD that do not primarily involve movement.

• Disturbances in the Sense of Smell

A reduced sensitivity to odors (hyposmia) or a loss of smell (anosmia) is often an early symptom of PD. In fact, hyposmia and anosmia may be experienced months or even years before the traditional motor symptoms of PD emerge.

Sleep Problems

Sleep problems are commonly experienced by people with PD. The inability to fall asleep, or primary insomnia, is less common than the inability to stay asleep, or secondary insomnia. Other individuals with PD have vivid dreams, although these are more typically due to side effects of medications for PD.

Read more about sleep problems associated with PD

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are fairly common non-motor symptoms of PD. They can range in severity and may improve with PD treatment, medications, and "talking therapy" or psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Read more about depression and anxiety

• Fatigue

Fatigue is a complex symptom of PD that is not fully understood. It is known, however, that fatigue is significantly associated with depression and sleep disorders.

Cognitive Changes

Particularly in more advanced PD or in older people with PD, problems with thinking, word finding, and judgment are common. If these symptoms occur in the early stages of illness, however, they may be symptoms of a related disorder (eg, dementia with Lewy bodies) rather than idiopathic PD. Many individuals report difficulties in multitasking and organizing daily activities. Confusion may also be a side effect of some PD medications.

Read more about the cognitive changes of PD

• Weight Loss

Loss of weight is a common symptom of PD, particularly in the later stages of the illness. If weight loss is significant and unintended, your physician should perform an examination to exclude other medical causes of weight loss.

• Gastrointestinal Issues

Disturbances of the gastrointestinal system are common in PD. Constipation, in particular, occurs frequently because PD may slow the automatic movement of the digestive system; however, side effects of medications may also contribute to constipation.

• Lightheadedness

Separate from the balance problems of postural instability but contributing to gait problems, lightheadedness or a faint feeling occurs often in PD. This symptom is related to the body's inability to quickly regulate blood pressure, particularly when sitting up from a lying position or standing from a sitting position. When severe, lightheadedness may cause black-outs or fainting.

• Urinary Issues

Urinary frequency (the need to urinate often) and urinary urgency (the feeling that one must urinate right away, even if the bladder is not full) are other possible symptoms of PD. Urinary problems may be worse at night, when a person is lying flat. There may also be problems with initiating a urine stream (urinary hesitancy), slowness of urination, and overfill of the bladder.

Sexual Concerns

Reductions in sexual desire, or libido, is another non-motor symptom of PD that is often under-recognized. Treatment with PD drugs frequently improves sexual desire and, in some cases, even increases it to a troublesome level. In men, the inability to achieve or maintain an erection (impotence) can occur; however, impotence may also be related to other age-related changes in the body or other conditions.

Read more about the sexual effects of PD

• Sweating

Excessive sweating is a relatively common sign of PD, particularly if the disease is untreated. It happens most often in the upper body.

• Melanoma

Individuals with PD may have an increased risk of melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer. As a result, people with PD should undergo annual skin examinations with a dermatologist. If you notice any troubling skin lesions, be sure to talk to your physician about them.

Personality Changes

The disease can affect the brain in ways that cause modest personality changes over time. Also, Parkinson's medication can, in some instances, cause impulse control disorders. An ICD can manifest as hypersexuality, pathological gambling, and other impulsive behaviors.

Read more about PD's affect on personality

Eye & Vision Issues

As a result of Parkinson's, the eyes can experience diminished movement capabilities. Also, blinking can slow from 16-18 times per minute to 1-2 times per minute, leading to a condition called "dry eyes."

Read more about eye & vision issues associated with PD

APDA helps thousands of people each year who live with the burden of Parkinson's Disease—and we depend on the generosity of donors like you. If you'd like to lend a helping hand, join our cause and donate today.