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Parkinson’s Disease: Recognizing the Early Warning Signs

April 27, 2021

And the importance of acting early if symptoms appear.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you know how devastating it can be. Nearly one million people in the U.S. live with Parkinson’s — a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, often including tremors. Knowing and looking for early warning signs of Parkinson’s in yourself and loved ones can make a world of difference when it comes to treatment.

To find out more about the basics and early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease, we spoke with Dr. Jay Klazmer, neurology specialist at Jefferson Health – New Jersey.

Parkinson’s Versus Other Neurological Disorders

To understand Parkinson’s disease, first, it’s important to understand how it’s diagnosed. “Neurologists diagnose Parkinson’s using clinical presentations. However, many neurological disorders have similar symptoms, which means some patients who come in with atypical symptoms of Parkinson’s may need extensive testing before an official diagnosis is made,” says Dr. Klazmer.

A clear diagnosis is essential since “parkinsonisms” — or common symptoms of Parkinson’s—may be caused by other medical treatments or disorders, including:

  • Medications that block dopamine
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Multiple system atrophy
  • Vascular parkinsonism, usually from multiple strokes

Early Symptoms to Look Out For

If you’re experiencing any parkinsonisms, like the characteristic tremor, it’s important to talk to your doctor about seeing a neurologist.

“Parkinson’s remains a clinical diagnosis, which means it’s based on the symptoms that are presenting in a patient,” says Dr. Klazmer. For those patients with atypical symptoms, tests to rule out other neurological disorders and causes may include MRI scans, blood tests and nuclear medicine scans.

Especially if you’re over 50 years old, it’s important to keep an eye out for some of the tell-tale signs of neurological disorders like Parkinson’s. Early warning signs can include:

  • Changes in speech, such as talking slower or softer
  • Changes in walking patterns, such as smaller steps and swinging one arm less than the other
  • Lasting stiffness, pain or pins and needles in your extremities
  • Loss of facial expression
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Slow movements
  • Smaller handwriting
  • Subtle changes in behavior, such as becoming more introverted or stubborn
  • Tremor starting in one hand

The Importance of Catching Parkinson’s Early

Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be an extensive process, which is why it’s vital to complete a clinical evaluation, as well as diagnostic testing for those who need it, as soon as symptoms begin to show.

“Many people will get misdiagnosed, which just delays their treatment process. For instance, patients may attribute stiffness to arthritis; however, with proper testing, we may see that this stiffness is a symptom of Parkinson’s,” says Dr. Klazmer. “Having a diagnosis and starting treatment means patients can start to improve their lives and gain a quality of life back that they may have lost when experiencing symptoms.”

Even if you’re experiencing mild symptoms, you may benefit from a neurologic evaluation. Talk to your doctor about your options if you’re concerned about Parkinson’s.

For more information on Neuroscience Services offered at Jefferson Health - New Jersey, click HERE