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Do you have early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

By Julie Nakis,

Muhammad Ali, boxing legend and humanitarian, recently passed away at 74 years old. While it’s been reported he died in the hospital undergoing treatment for respiratory complications, Ali fought Parkinson’s disease for the last three decades of his life.

After Ali’s diagnosis at 42 years old, he became an advocate and a face for the neurological disorder that affects the movements of the body. While he certainly raised the profile of Parkinson’s disease, it is still a condition that people know little about until they or a loved one receive a diagnosis.

“Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition where symptoms, such as shaking, stiffness, slowness or balance impairment, often start out mild and gradually become more intense and bothersome,” says Dr. Sachin Kapur, a neurologist and medical director of the Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders program at Advocate Christ Medical Center’s Neurosciences Institute in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Early signs of Parkinson’s disease are difficult to pinpoint as they are often confused for normal effects of aging, but Dr. Kapur provides the following symptoms that typically precede a diagnosis and should not be ignored:

Tremor – This is the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s. Mild shaking or tremor in the fingers, hands or feet occur at the early stages of the disease and gradually worsen over time. Parkinson’s disease may occasionally occur without tremor.
Change in handwriting – Fine motor skills become affected at the onset of Parkinson’s. Patients suddenly begin writing words smaller and closer together than they had done previously.
Stiff muscles – Parkinson’s makes muscles rigid and slow moving. This tightness causes a reduced range of motion, and people may notice that one arm swings less than the other when walking.
Blank facial expression – People with Parkinson’s disease may have a blank stare on their face and appear to be upset or angry. The patient can be engaging in a lively conversation but have a very serious look on their face without realizing it.
Soft voice – In early stages of Parkinson’s, people are often told they are speaking in a very low or muffled voice.
Disturbed sleep – Sudden, uncontrollable movements of the arms and legs during sleep is an early sign of Parkinson’s. Other sleep issues include difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Dr. Kapur strongly encourages everyone to make an appointment with a neurologist if they or a loved one begins exhibiting recurring symptoms. He says there’s no one predictor on how quickly a patient’s symptoms will worsen, but early detection and treatment can alleviate symptoms and potentially slow the disease’s progression.

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