Early Signs of Parkinson's Disease

Early Signs of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects not only the nerves but also the parts of the body controlled by the nerves. Symptoms start slowly, and the first to show up is usually a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Currently, there’s no cure for PD, but there are a number of treatments that relieve some of the symptoms and slow the overall progression.

At Memphis Neurology, our expert team of neurologists believes that patient education is important for treating any kind of medical condition, including neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease. They’ve compiled this guide to provide you with the necessary information.

Parkinson’s disease basics

Parkinson's disease damages the brain neurons that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and movement, among other things.

For many people, early symptoms of the disease may be mild and go unnoticed, though how it manifests from start to finish differs from one person to another. Symptoms typically start on one side of the body and remain worse on that side, even after the limbs on both sides become involved.

Early signs include:

Tremor

A tremor in one hand is usually the first symptom to appear, and it may be so mild at first that you don’t notice it. Also known as rhythmic shaking, the hand or fingers may start to tremble when resting but decrease when you perform a task. Some people rub their thumb and forefinger back and forth, a motion known as a pill-rolling tremor.

Slowed movement (bradykinesia)

Parkinson's disease also slows your movements, making simple actions both difficult to achieve and time-consuming to do. Your steps may become shorter, too, slowing your speed, you may drag or shuffle your feet, and getting out of a chair may prove increasingly difficult.

Rigid muscles, impaired posture, and balance

Stiff muscles can occur anywhere in your body, which may prove painful and limit your range of motion. Your posture may also change, becoming more stooped, and you may struggle with balance problems and falls.

Loss of automatic movements

We take a lot of body movements for granted, but they come front and center when you have Parkinson’s. You may have difficulty with automatic-type movements such as blinking, smiling, or even swinging your arms as you walk.

Speech changes

The way we speak embodies who we are, but PD interferes with that, too. Your voice may come out more softly or more quickly. You may slur your words or have a noticeable hesitation before speaking. And when you speak, it may come out more like a monotone than inflected speech.

Writing changes

You may find it difficult to hold a pen, and your writing may appear smaller than normal.

Diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease

Currently, there’s no specific test that can pinpoint Parkinson's disease. A diagnosis is based on your medical history, a review of your symptoms and their severity, a physical exam, and a neurological exam. Your doctor may also prescribe carbidopa-levodopa, a Parkinson's disease medicine, at a sufficient dose to show that you benefit from it. Significant improvement can confirm the diagnosis.

While it often takes time to make a Parkinson’s diagnosis because many other conditions have to be ruled out first, there’s a new test on the horizon that offers promise. The test is called an alpha-synuclein seed amplification assay, and it can detect the disease before symptoms begin.

In this 2023 study, researchers tested the spinal fluid of over 1,000 people to look for clumps of alpha-synuclein, a protein found in Lewy bodies, tissue clumps the body can’t break down that spread through the brain and damage cells.

These alpha-synuclein clumps are a hallmark sign of Parkinson's disease, and the test correctly identified people with PD 87.7% of the time. It also proved highly sensitive for detecting people at risk of the disease.

Medication, including the highly effective levodopa, is the first-line treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Levodopa is a natural chemical that passes into the brain and is converted to dopamine. It’s combined with carbidopa, which protects levodopa from conversion to dopamine outside the brain and can lessen side effects such as nausea.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical technique where doctors implant electrodes into a specific part of the brain. These are connected to an implanted generator that sends electrical pulses to the brain and may reduce PD symptoms.

If you’re noticing any of the early signs of Parkinson’s disease, you need to come into Memphis Neurology for a full evaluation and diagnosis. Call our team at either of our locations (Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi) or schedule an appointment with us online today.

 

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