Parkinson’s can cause a variety of symptoms that typically develop gradually. However, the progression of Parkinson’s can vary among different people, but typically takes years before it affects daily life.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition characterized by body tremors, slowed movement, difficulties with balance, and muscle stiffness. The progression of this disease can vary widely among individuals.

About 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease. Although this condition can occur in younger individuals, it is most prevalent in people over the age of 65 years. Males are also more likely than females to develop Parkinson’s disease.

Early symptoms of this condition can be easy to miss and may progress gradually. Certain treatment options can help improve symptoms in certain cases.

In this article, we will examine some common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and how quickly they can progress.

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It is very difficult to predict the exact progression of Parkinson’s disease. The type of symptoms and the rate at which they progress differ among those living with the condition.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease typically arise slowly over time. For many people, the condition can take years to progress to a point where it begins to affect daily life. Although symptoms can vary, the most common ones include:

  • difficulties with coordination and balance
  • slowed movements
  • trembling or tremors in the limbs, hands, face, and jaw
  • muscle stiffness throughout the limbs and torso

These symptoms typically begin on one side of the body. Over time, the symptoms worsen and begin to affect both sides of the body. These symptoms may cause difficulty with speaking, walking, or completing household chores. A person with Parkinson’s disease may experience mild or moderate symptoms for decades.

Some people may find that symptoms progress quickly, while for others, symptoms may develop slowly and never become severe enough to affect daily life. Individuals who are older when they develop Parkinson’s disease may experience quicker disease progression.

Although Parkinson’s disease can have a negative effect on quality of life, it does not significantly shorten life expectancy. Regardless of how quickly symptoms progress, individuals with this disease can lead full and active lives with the right support.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease typically fall into two categories: motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms.

Motor symptoms

The motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are those that affect the way people move. Some of the most common motor symptoms include:

  • a delay in starting movements and slow movements
  • shaking and tremors at rest that usually go away with movement
  • slow walking or a rapid shuffling with small steps when walking
  • muscle spasms
  • balance problems that may cause falling
  • muscle cramps

In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, individuals may experience mild motor symptoms, such as tremors. Early symptoms may begin to affect walking patterns or facial expressions.

As the disease progresses, these symptoms can make it difficult to complete certain daily tasks. In addition to causing difficulty walking, these symptoms may interfere with speaking, talking, or swallowing.

Non-motor symptoms

Non-motor symptoms do not affect movement, but they can still affect quality of life. Some of these symptoms might develop before motor symptoms. These include:

  • reduced ability to smell certain odors
  • constipation
  • sleep disturbances

In addition to the symptoms noted above, individuals with Parkinson’s disease may experience:

  • excessive daytime drowsiness
  • incontinence
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dry skin
  • lack of emotional expression

A person may also develop mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In advanced cases, cognitive function may decline, and dementia can also develop.

Throughout Parkinson’s disease, levels of the brain chemical dopamine decrease. This decrease leads to the motor symptoms associated with this condition. The most common medication for Parkinson’s disease is levodopa. Nerve cells use this medication to help replenish dopamine levels.

There are also other types of medication for Parkinson’s available. A doctor may recommend that a person takes more than one type to help manage the condition.

Click here to learn more about the relationship between Parkinson’s and dopamine.

People with Parkinson’s disease may also benefit from deep brain stimulation. For this treatment, surgeons implant electrodes into the brain. They can then deliver electrical impulses directly to affected areas of the brain. This procedure may help reduce or stop motor symptoms.

There are also noninvasive options that can help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These may include:

Life expectancy for people with Parkinson’s disease is similar to that of the general population. A 2020 study found that people with Parkinson’s disease had a life expectancy that was only 1.2 years shorter than that of individuals without the condition.

Minor changes in life expectancy are most likely to occur in people who receive a diagnosis before the age of 70 years. However, most people living with Parkinson’s disease will experience a typical lifespan.

Click here to learn more about Parkinson’s disease and life expectancy.

It is advisable for individuals experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to visit a medical professional. Uncontrolled tremors in the hand or arm, slowed movements, or muscle stiffness are all warning signs.

Other symptoms, such as issues with balance or excessive fatigue, may also indicate the presence of Parkinson’s disease. Anyone experiencing new or worsening symptoms should contact a doctor for a full evaluation.

Some frequently asked questions about Parkinson’s disease progression may include:

Can Parkinson’s deteriorate suddenly?

In most cases, Parkinson’s disease symptoms develop gradually. However, recent studies have noted that some individuals in the advanced stages of this disease can deteriorate suddenly. Typically, an abrupt worsening may occur due to a stroke, as this can also affect movement and balance.

As such, managing the condition and preventing stroke are important for helping prevent the effects of Parkinson’s from severely affecting daily life.

How do you know if Parkinson’s is progressing?

The early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be easy to miss. Over time, these symptoms begin to interfere with activities such as walking or completing household chores.

Worsening tremors, poor posture, and issues with walking are all signs of disease progression. Balance trouble leading to falls is also an indication that the disease is advancing. Keeping track of Parkinson’s disease symptoms is crucial for noting progression.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that can cause tremors, balance issues, slow movements, and muscle stiffness.

The timeline for disease progression varies among individuals. Most people may experience gradual progression over decades, while others may experience rapid disease progression.

Receiving effective treatment and making certain lifestyle changes can help manage disease progression. Individuals living with Parkinson’s disease should discuss management options with their doctor.