Plenty of notable athletes, politicians, musicians, and actors help put a face to Parkinson’s disease, a condition that actually affects about 1 million Americans, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. When a celeb (most recently, Neil Diamond) gives the news that they’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, they are just one in approximately 60,000 Americans to learn their diagnosis in a given year.
Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the nervous system, is probably most known for causing tremors, but the symptoms go beyond involuntary hand movements. Here are the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to look out for.
Tremors. In the beginning, Parkinson’s tremors will occur in the hands, fingers, or chin. They primarily happen when you are otherwise at rest. Tremors often subside when you’re body’s in motion.
Slower movements. Loss of dexterity in the legs and arms can slow down your movements. Taking smaller and smaller steps or needing more time than usual to button up a shirt may be a sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Stiff or rigid limbs. Some stiffness is normal as you age, but it is more intense with Parkinson’s disease. Your arms may not swing as much when you walk, or your feet may feel “stuck” to the floor. You may experience rigidity in your shoulder or hips that make simple movements more tricky. (Stiffness could also be a sign of other issues, such as arthritis. Learn more signs of arthritis here.)
Stooped posture. Hunching over or leaning to one side is a common sign of Parkinson’s—especially if you previously had good posture.
Difficulty walking and loss of balance. This goes back to the stiff limbs. Initiating and stopping movement can be the hardest; it can be tough to take the first step, stand up, or come to a stop.
Reduced sense of smell. You may not smell or taste certain foods as well. Your favorite dishes may seem more bland.
Loss of movement in the facial muscles. Doctors refer to this as “facial masking” because your expressions become more subtle over time. You may appear “stuck” as perpetually serious or somber.
Difficulty speaking and swallowing. Your voice may become softer, more hoarse, or even monotone, which is also due to less muscle activity in the face.
Smaller handwriting. This change in handwriting is called micrographia. It may cause your letters to be smaller and more crowded together. This is primarily a result of hand tremors.
Difficulty sleeping. One symptom of Parkinson’s disease is sudden movements in bed. It can manifest as tossing about when you’re trying to sleep, or physically acting out dreams. (Don’t think it’s Parkinson’s? Here are other reasons you might have trouble sleeping at night.)
If you suspect you may or someone you know may have Parkinson’s disease, talk to a doctor to get tested and begin treatment, if necessary.