Parkinson’s disease affects the nervous system, causing difficulty with movement and other issues. Tremors are a hallmark symptom, but other common symptoms include fatigue and sleep problems.

Parkinson’s disease involves a wide range of symptoms. A major cause of the symptoms is low dopamine activity in the brain. As dopamine activity continues to fall, the symptoms can become more severe.

However, it is worth noting that Parkinson’s disease affects people differently. Some people may lose all mobility, while others may continue to experience only mild symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it is not possible at diagnosis to predict how the condition will eventually affect an individual.

In this article, learn about the signs and symptoms and what to expect at each stage of the condition.

Can Medicare help with Parkinson’s disease? Find out here.

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Parkinson’s disease can cause motor (movement) and non-motor symptoms. The four key symptoms relate to movement.

They are:

  • slow movements (bradykinesia)
  • shaking and tremors, usually with a back-and-forth movement
  • rigid muscles, leading to stiffness in the limbs
  • problems with balance, which increase the risk of falling

Other possible symptoms include:

The symptoms may have a minor impact when they first appear, but they can become more severe over time.

Some medications that people take to treat other conditions can worsen the symptoms or cause symptoms that are characteristic of Parkinson’s disease, such as confusion.

A person should talk with a doctor about any new or changing symptoms and make sure that they know about all the medications they are taking. The doctor can determine if they need to review the person’s drugs or adjust their dosage.

In time, complications can arise with Parkinson’s disease. Learn about 11 common complications here.

Doctors sometimes use five stages to describe the progress of Parkinson’s disease. Each stage presents changing or new symptoms that a person is likely to encounter.

It is worth noting that not everyone will reach the advanced stages. For some people, the symptoms remain mild, and they can continue to live independently and be mobile.

Dividing the condition into stages helps doctors and caregivers understand and address some of the challenges a person is experiencing as it progresses.

Stage 1

During the initial stages, the symptoms are not typically severe. A person can perform everyday tasks with minimal difficulty.

Some signs and symptoms of this stage include changes in:

  • tremors, which are usually more pronounced on one side of the body than the other
  • posture
  • facial expressions
  • walking

A person may not seek or receive a diagnosis at this stage, as the signs and symptoms may not be very noticeable. If a person does have a diagnosis, a doctor might prescribe medication to help control the symptoms.

Stage 2

Tremors, trembling, and stiffness affect both sides of the body and become more noticeable.

As stiffness increases, the person may find that daily tasks are harder to carry out and take longer than before.

Walking, speech, and posture problems are often more noticeable in stage 2 of Parkinson’s disease.

Stage 3

During stage 3, a person will experience most or all of the symptoms of stage 2 plus some others, including:

  • problems with balance
  • slow movements
  • slow reflexes

There is also a higher risk of falling due to coordination problems. Dressing and other self-care tasks may become more difficult.

Medication and occupational or physical therapy may help manage the symptoms and daily living.

Stage 4

At stage 4, daily activities become even more challenging. A person will likely need some form of daily care. Independent living is not usually possible.

The person may be able to stand on their own but may need a walker or other assistive device to walk.

Stage 5

At stage 5, a person may not be able to stand or move around due to stiffness. Depending on their age and overall health, they may need a wheelchair for mobility.

The individual will need constant care to carry out daily activities and protect them from hazards, such as falling.

The person may also experience:

  • dementia
  • confusion
  • a reduced response to medication

Parkinson’s disease is not life threatening, but it can put strain on the body. A person may become more prone to certain types of infections, and there may be a risk of falling or choking.

Advances in treatment now mean that many people with Parkinson’s disease can now expect to live for as long as a person without the condition.

Learn more about life expectancy with Parkinson’s disease here.

A doctor will often use a scale when talking about Parkinson’s disease. The scale can help determine the progression of the condition.

The Hoehn and Yahr scale is similar to the five stages of Parkinson’s disease above and focuses on the progression of motor symptoms. A doctor will allot points that match signs and symptoms to the scale.

The Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale addresses a variety of symptoms, including:

  • mental functioning
  • mood
  • social interaction
  • movements

Looking at a wide variety of symptoms helps doctors get a better idea of how Parkinson’s disease is affecting a person’s everyday life overall.

Learn more about how doctors diagnose Parkinson’s disease here.

Currently, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. Once a person receives a diagnosis, medications and therapies can help manage the symptoms, especially in the early stages.

In time, Parkinson’s disease can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life. For example, it can affect their ability to move and communicate with others.

Parkinson’s disease does not have a direct impact on life expectancy, but it can increase the risk of potentially life threatening complications, such as choking or falling.

Medication and other treatments can help improve a person’s quality of life while living with Parkinson’s disease. For more information on treatment, click here.