Diagnosing Parkinson's disease (PD) can be challenging. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years of progression and present differently for each person. Below are general symptoms or early signs you may notice and want to discuss with your primary care physician. If you have more than one of these symptoms, your primary care physician may choose to refer you to a Neurologist or Movement Disorder Specialist to help with a diagnosis of PD, or rule-out other areas that share similar parkinsonism symptoms. These early signs, include:
A Soft or Low Voice
You or your loved ones may have noticed a change in your voice volume and that you now speak more softly.
Thrashing around in bed or acting out dreams while sleeping consistently may be a sign of PD. A sleep disorder specialist can help with understanding your sleep patterns and offer solutions.
Loss of Smell
You may notice that you no longer can smell certain foods. Bananas, dill pickles, and licorice are common losses of smell used to help detect PD.
If your hand is at rest, but you notice a slight shaking or tremor in your finger, thumb, hand, or chin, it may be a common early sign of PD.
Trouble Moving or Walking
Often, those experiencing stiffness in their body, arms, and legs consistently can be a sign of PD. This can also present as stiffness or pain in your shoulder or hips. Many doctors also diagnose PD if your arms don't swing naturally when walking. Some people report feeling like their feet are "stuck to the floor."
Hunching Over or Stooping
Do you lean, stoop, or slouch when you stand? Have you noticed that you can't stand as straight as you once could? This could be a sign of PD if you are not experiencing an injury or have not been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
If your handwriting grows smaller as you write, or has become smaller compared to how you did write, you may be exhibiting signs of PD called micrographia.
Some people with Parkinson's faces often exhibit expressionless emotions, showcasing you to be serious, depressed, mad, or in a bad mood even if you feel perfectly fine. This is known as facial masking.
If you find yourself consistently constipated, you may not have enough water or fiber in your diet. If you still find yourself struggling with constipation, it may be time to see your physician as this combined with other above symptoms could be an early sign of PD.
Fainting and Dizziness
At times, we may all feel faint or dizzy when standing quickly due to low blood pressure. However, if you find yourself consistently feeling dizzy or like you will faint when you go from sitting down to standing up, this might be a sign of PD.
Having just one or two of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have Parkinson's Disease. However, if you find a combination of 2-3 of these early signs; especially tremor, sleep issues, and trouble moving or walking - it is time to ask your physician to refer you to a Movement Disorder Specialist or Neurologist.
Think you might have Parkinson's?
Follow these five steps to inquire about a Parkinson's diagnosis:
Check Your Insurance
Does your insurance require you to have a referral from your primary care physician? If yes - book an appointment with your Primary Care Physician to discuss your symptoms and seek a referral to a neurologist or movement disorder specialist. Sometimes primary care physicians can get you into a specialist faster than calling yourself for an appointment. Remember, it is very important to see a neurologist or movement disorder specialist rather than your primary care physician to treat you for Parkinson's disease.
Do Your Research
What neurologists and movement disorder specialists are within your insurance network? Know this information before you go to your primary care doctor. Do your own research of each of the doctors within your network to see which ones are convenient to your location or may be a good fit for you. Make phone calls to neurologists or movement disorder specialists in your area to see if they treat people with Parkinson's in advance. Ask what percentage of their practice is dedicated to treating Parkinson's?
Know Before You Go
Prepare for your specialist appointment. Clearly define your symptoms and what has led you to believe that you might have Parkinson's. Ask what diagnostic options are available and need to be utilized to achieve an official diagnosis of Parkinson's or rule out other potential conditions.
Seek Second Opinions
If you are uncomfortable with your specialist or primary care physician, never be afraid to seek second opinions or keep trying to find the specialist that works best for you for the management of Parkinson's.
Diagnosed with Parkinson's?
Connect with the Parkinson's Association of Alabama to learn more about the condition and how you can plug into local resources and support for your journey by calling a Care Navigator at 1.833.473.5465, option 2, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The Parkinson Association of Alabama provides information for all medical options certified in practicing Parkinson's specialties and does not endorse any particular neurologist, movement disorder specialist or hospital system in the state of Alabama.
The Davis Phinney Foundation. Every Victory Counts, "Manual" Your Go-To Resource of Essential Information and Inspiration for Living Well with Parkinson's. Page 37.