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Parkinson's Disease - Symptoms

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease differ from person to person. They also change as the disease progresses. Symptoms that one person gets in the early stages of the disease, another person may not get until later—or not at all.

Symptoms typically begin appearing between the ages of 50 and 60. They develop slowly and often go unnoticed by family, friends, and even the person who has them.

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Understanding Parkinson's Disease -- the Basics

Parkinson's disease, which mostly affects older people but can even occur in younger adults, results from the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements. The first signs are likely to be barely noticeable -- a feeling of weakness or stiffness in one limb, or a fine trembling of one hand when it is at rest. Eventually, the shaking (tremor) worsens and spreads, muscles become stiffer, movements slow down, and balance and coordination deteriorate...

Read the Understanding Parkinson's Disease -- the Basics article > >

The disease causes motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms. Motor symptoms are those that have to do with how you move. The most common one is tremor.

Tremor

Tremor, or shaking, often in a hand, arm, or leg, occurs when you're awake and sitting or standing still (resting tremor), and it gets better when you move that body part.

Tremor is often the first symptom that people with Parkinson's disease or their family members notice.

At first the tremor may appear in just one arm or leg or only on one side of the body. The tremor also may affect the chin, lips, and tongue.

As the disease progresses, the tremor may spread to both sides of the body. But in some cases the tremor remains on just one side.

Emotional and physical stress tends to make the tremor more noticeable. Sleep, complete relaxation, and intentional movement or action usually reduce or stop the tremor.

Although tremor is one of the most common signs of Parkinson's, not everyone with tremor has Parkinson's. Unlike tremor caused by Parkinson's, tremor caused by other conditions gets better when your arm or hand is not moving and gets worse when you try to move it.

The most common cause of non-Parkinson's tremor is essential tremor. It's a treatable condition that is often wrongly diagnosed as Parkinson's.

Other common symptoms

Besides tremor, the most common symptoms include:

  • Stiff muscles (rigidity) and aching muscles. One of the most common early signs of Parkinson's is a reduced arm swing on one side when you walk. This is caused by rigid muscles. Rigidity can also affect the muscles of the legs, face, neck, or other parts of the body. It may cause muscles to feel tired and achy.
  • Slow, limited movement, especially when you try to move from a resting position. For instance, it may be hard to get out of a chair or turn over in bed.
  • Weakness of face and throat muscles. It may get harder to talk and swallow. You may choke, cough, or drool. Speech becomes softer and monotonous. Loss of movement in the muscles in the face can cause a fixed, vacant facial expression, often called the "Parkinson's mask."
  • Difficulty with walking and balance. A person with this disease is likely to take small steps and shuffle with his or her feet close together, bend forward slightly at the waist, and have trouble turning around. Balance and posture problems may cause frequent falls. But these problems usually don't happen until later on.
  • FreezingFreezing, a sudden, brief inability to move. It most often affects walking.

A small number of people have symptoms on only one side of the body that never move to the other side.

Non-motor symptoms

Parkinson's disease can cause many other symptoms that aren't related to how you move. These can be disabling and may include things like constipation, sleep problems, and depression.

There are many other conditions with symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. Some of these may be reversible.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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