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7 Early Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

April 22, 2024

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The Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that roughly 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition caused by a decrease in the neurotransmitter, dopamine. The disease is progressive, which means that symptoms worsen over time. Because the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are different for each person, they can be easy to miss.

“No single symptom is a definite sign of Parkinson’s disease. Some of these early symptoms can be from medications, viral illnesses, or considered a normal part of aging,” says Katrina Badiola Lim, MD, a neurologist at Atlantic Health System. “However, if you or a loved one has more than one symptom, and it doesn’t go away with time, you should see your provider for an evaluation.”

1. Tremor

A tremor is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. While there are several different types of tremors, the type that is most suggestive of Parkinson’s disease most often happens at rest, starts on one side and is most often seen in your hands or chin. Mild shaking when performing actions, such as when lifting or pouring something, is less suggestive of Parkinson’s disease.

2. Changes to gait and posture

Another symptom of Parkinson’s disease is a change in how you walk or move around. The change can include shuffling your feet, shortened steps or simply walking slower. In addition, a shift in your posture such as leaning, hunching over or stooping can be another early sign of the disease.

3. Stiffness

It’s normal to experience some degree of joint or muscle stiffness after moving your body in new ways, or more than is typical, such as after a long walk or a long time spent working in your garden. And like Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis is more common with age. This can make it especially difficult to determine the cause of your stiffness. Dr. Badiola Lim says that if you find your stiffness does not resolve with time, or if you notice you don’t swing your arms as much while walking, it could be an indication something more than arthritis or activity-related pain is going on.

4. Slowness

Taking longer to complete simple tasks or generally moving slower through your activities of daily living can also be an early indicator of Parkinson’s.

5. Sleep issues

Everyone has some trouble sleeping on occasion and jerking movements in the early stages of sleep and general tossing and turning are considered normal. However, acting out your dreams, persistent restlessness in your legs or other disruptive movements during sleep can be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease.

6. Constipation

Your bathroom habits are an indicator of your overall gut health. If you used to have very regular bowel movements and now find that you have difficulty completing your business in the bathroom, it could be due to medications, supplements or even your diet. However, Parkinson’s disease can also impact your gastrointestinal system and result in constipation.

7. Loss of smell

In a post-COVID-19 world, a loss of smell is more common than ever. Difficulty picking up scents can also be the result of a cold, the flu or even seasonal allergies. However, it’s also possible that a loss of your olfactory senses could be caused by Parkinson’s disease.


Parkinson’s disease is made up of a constellation of symptoms that may worsen over time. While it’s not yet known exactly what causes Parkinson’s disease, neurologists believe it’s a combination of genetics and your environment. There’s not much you can do to change your genes, but Dr. Badiola Lim says a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of exercise, a healthy diet and lower stress levels can help prevent a range of health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

“It’s important to remember that having just one of these early signs does not mean you have or will develop Parkinson’s disease,” says Dr. Badiola Lim. “However, if you are concerned by any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor for a physical examination.”

  • Brain Health