By Robin Westen
Around one million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a serious condition in which your body stops making a brain chemical called dopamine. This is an important chemical because it helps your body move and also affects mood. (In fact, a recent study by the Parkinson's Disease Foundation showed that for people with the condition, depression can have s big an impact as loss of motor skills.) The following problems could be indications of Parkinson's disease:
Shaking or tremors If it’s Parkinson’s, the shaking most often takes place in your hand, individual fingers, chin or lips. You might also notice your leg shaking when you sit or relax. Although these tremors are an early sign of the disease they’re also a common reaction after exercise or injury. Tremors and shaking could also be caused by medications.
Soft voice If it’s not a cold or flu keeping your voice low or hoarse and people are remarking that they can’t hear you, Parkinson’s could be the reason. Don’t be lulled into believing it’s the result of the other person’s hearing loss. Get it checked out.
Tiny handwriting If your handwriting wasn’t always small and tight, but suddenly it is now, this could be another indication of Parkinson’s. It’s common for handwriting to change as we get older, but it’s usually the result of vision changes or arthritic fingers. In this case, the key word for handwriting change is “suddenly”.
Loss of smell You can lose your sense of smell, or have it lessen or change. This can happen if you have a cold, flu, or a stuffy nose from allergies. But this is a different kind. It’s subtler. Certain aromas are especially difficult to detect if you have Parkinson’s, including some fruits and, oddly, licorice.
Sleep problems Who doesn’t have these? But if you’re tossing around in bed, kicking the mattress or punching your pillow, these kinds of sudden movements can be an indication of Parkinson’s. You may not notice it – but your partner probably will.
Stiffness Have people commented that you look stiff? One indication of Parkinson’s is that your arms don’t swing when you walk. Or you may be feeling stiffness or pain in your shoulder or hips. Of course, the same symptoms can be the result of arthritis in the same areas. But if you also feel as if your feet are stuck to the ground, that may be cause for concern.
Constipation When you don’t eat enough fiber or drink enough water, you’re likely to experience constipation. But if this isn’t the case and you always have to strain to move your bowels, Parkinson’s might be the reason.
Blank face Are people asking you why you look so serious or down? This kind of expression is called “masking.” Also, if you, or other people notice that you have a blank stare or don’t blink your eyes very often, this may be another indication.
Dizziness If you frequently feel dizzy when you stand or get out of a chair, the cause could be low blood pressure. On the other hand, it might another indication of Parkinson’s. Fainting is also a sign.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's Medical Director. Check for her daily updates. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V is for Vagina."
Editor's note: For more information, visit the Parkinson's Disease Foundation at http://www.pdf.org/.