Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson's

People with idiopathic Parkinson's disease may develop several symptoms over time; however, most patients do not develop all of the symptoms associated with the condition. In most cases, primary symptoms include:

  • Slow movements (bradykinesia)
  • Tremor
  • Rigidity
  • Parkinsonian gait

Symptoms of Parkinson's usually begin on one side of the body.

Parkinson's disease may progress quickly or gradually over years. Many patients become profoundly disabled and others continue to function relatively well.

Symptoms of Parkinson's can vary from day to day or even moment to moment. There often is no clear reason for this fluctuation of symptoms; however, it may be attributable to disease process or to antiparkinson medications.

Primary Symptoms of Parkinson's

Bradykinesia is slowness in voluntary movement. It produces difficulty initiating movement, as well as difficulty completing movement once it is in progress. The delayed transmission of signals from the brain to the skeletal muscles, due to diminished dopamine, produces bradykinesia. Bradykinesia and rigidity that affects the facial muscles can result in an expressionless, "mask-like" appearance.

Tremors in the hands, fingers, forearm, or foot tend to occur when the limb is at rest, but not when the patient is performing tasks. (Tremor that that occurs with purposeful movement is called Essential Tremor.) Tremor may occur in the mouth and chin as well.

Rigidity, or stiff muscles, may produce muscle pain and facial masking. Rigidity tends to increase during movement.

Poor balance is due to the impairment or loss of the reflexes that adjust posture in order to maintain balance. Falls are common in people with Parkinson's disease.

Parkinsonian gait is the distinctive unsteady walk associated with Parkinson's disease. There is a tendency to lean unnaturally backward or forward, and to develop a stooped, head-down, shoulders-drooped stance. Arm swing is diminished or absent and people with Parkinson's tend to take small shuffling steps (called festination). Patient's with Parkinson's may have trouble starting to walk, may appear to be falling forward as they walk, may freeze in mid-stride, and may have difficulty making a turn.

Secondary Symptoms of Parkinson's

The progressive loss of voluntary and involuntary muscle control produces a number of secondary symptoms associated with Parkinson's. Most patients do not experience all of them, and symptoms vary in intensity from person to person.

Some secondary symptoms of Parkinson's disease include the following:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)—saliva and food may collect in the mouth or back of the throat may cause choking, coughing or drooling
  • Excessive salivation (hypersalivation)
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
  • Loss of intellectual capacity (e.g., dementia)—late in the disease
  • Psychosocial: anxiety, isolation
  • Scaling, dry skin on the face and scalp (e.g., seborrhea)
  • Slow response to questions (bradyphrenia)
  • Small, cramped handwriting (micrographia)
  • Soft, whispery voice (hypophonia)

Publication Review By: Gordon R. Kelley, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 29 Sep 2015