Parkinson’s disease (PD) is on the rise in the U.S., where 60,000 people are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder each year, according to The Parkinson’s Foundation. By 2030, the organization estimates that 1.2 million people in the U.S. will be living with PD. Currently, 10 million people worldwide suffer from the disease, which is the second-most common neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimer’s. While the likelihood of being diagnosed with PD increases with age, approximately 4 percent of people are diagnosed with it before they turn 50—and men are more 1.5 times more likely to develop the disorder than women.
When you think of Parkinson’s, you may think of shaky hands—but the disease can manifest with quite a few other symptoms that may surprise you, and which may even be more troublesome. “While tremor, stiffness, and slowness (cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson’s) may not be overly bothersome to patients, the non-motor symptoms may be present, and need to be addressed to help patients have the best quality of life possible,” neurologist Allison Boyle, MD, tells Best Life. “It is very important to ask and address these early symptoms, as they often respond to medications and can significantly improve one’s quality of life.”
Read on for four common but easy-to-ignore symptoms that may be early signs of Parkinson’s.
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One of the more surprising symptoms of PD may happen while you’re sleeping. Have you ever dreamed of swinging a bat, only to wake yourself up because you’re waving your arms? That’s exactly the sort of thing that many Parkinson’s patients experience nightly. Boyle says that “they can experience acting out their dreams, which may impact their sleep or the sleep of their partner.”
REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) causes a person to “physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams” when they’re deeply asleep, says the Mayo Clinic. This strange symptom was recently connected with PD by research funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and led by the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative.
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Another PD symptom that might be easy to chalk up to something else, constipation is “one of the most persistent symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” the Michael J. Fox Foundation writes, noting that it often becomes a problem “years before the motor symptoms” arise, and continues throughout the course of the disease.
Because the constipation affects the absorption and effectiveness of PD medications, the organization says that finding a solution is a top priority for researchers. In the meantime, if you experience the bloating and nausea that can result from this uncomfortable condition, don’t be embarrassed: Get yourself to your healthcare provider for a checkup.
It makes sense that changes in handwriting come along with the tremors typically seen in PD patients. However, you may notice these shifts before it becomes clear that you’re suffering from shaky hands due to PD.
Many adults have handwriting that’s tricky to read—we all have trouble deciphering our grocery lists now and then—but handwriting that’s small and cramped is a hallmark of PD, according to The Parkinson’s Foundation.
“Small, cramped handwriting—called micrographia—is characteristic of Parkinson’s and is frequently one of the early symptoms,” they write. “In addition to words being generally small and crowded together, the size of your handwriting might get progressively smaller as you continue to write.”
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Not feeling like doing the things that used to bring you joy? Whether it’s socializing with friends, traveling, or cracking open the latest book by your favorite author, feeling apathetic toward life is something you shouldn’t dismiss as a harmless case of the blues.
“In the early stages of Parkinson’s, patients can experience apathy, and describe it as not being interested in activities they previously enjoyed,” Boyle tells Best Life.
In other words, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your concerns. While apathy by itself certainly doesn’t mean you have PD, it’s worth getting to the bottom of it—and a PD screening may be in order.