Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It persists over a long time, and its symptoms grow progressively worse. At least 500,000 people in the United States currently have Parkinson's at a total annual cost of more than $6 billion.
Symptoms begin gradually and worsen over time. Patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Not everyone with these symptoms has Parkinson's; they can appear in other disorders.
Parkinson's symptoms do not affect everyone the same way. Their rate and severity differ among individuals. Early signs may be subtle and occur gradually. People may have mild shaking or difficulty rising from a chair. Activities may take longer than normal to complete, and there may be some stiffness and slowness. People may speak too softly or have slow, cramped handwriting. In time, however, the more obvious motor symptoms appear.
Friends or family members may notice changes first. The person's face may lack expression and animation; he or she may move more slowly. As the disease progresses, the symptoms may begin to interfere with daily activities.
People with Parkinson's often tend to walk leaning forward, in small quick steps as if hurrying, and with reduced swinging of the arms. They also may have trouble starting to walk (hesitation) and stop suddenly (freezing).
Symptoms typically begin on one side of the body. Eventually both sides are affected. Even after both sides are involved, symptoms are often less severe on one side than the other.
Numerous other symptoms may accompany Parkinson's, including depression, anxiety, loss of motivation, and dependency; difficulty chewing and swallowing; speech difficulties; skin problems; urinary problems or constipation; sleep problems; dementia or other cognitive issues; sudden drops in blood pressure resulting in dizziness; muscle cramps, especially in the legs and toes; twisted, frozen postures; fatigue and loss of energy; sexual dysfunction; and pain, especially aching muscles and joints.