Recognize the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

People may start to display symptoms of Parkinson’s when the production of dopamine in the brain becomes irregular and inadequate.

by Nashville General Hospital
Hands with a puzzle

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder caused by the reduction of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that helps your brain control many body functions, including movement. When the production of dopamine becomes irregular and inadequate you may start to display certain symptoms and be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. 

While there is no specific test for Parkinson’s, the disease has some distinct symptoms. Over time, these symptoms can get worse as the neurons that create dopamine die and the nerve cells in the brain become more damaged.

In its early stages, there are four symptoms often associated with Parkinson’s. These symptoms frequently start on one side of the body and eventually affect both sides. The rate of progression and specific symptoms will vary by person.

Tremor: One of the first symptoms to appear is a slight shaking that often begins in a hand, the lower lip, a foot or the jaw. Most common is a hand tremor, which typically has a rhythmic back-and-forth motion. It may also involve the thumb and forefinger and appear as “pill rolling”. It is most obvious when the hand is at rest or when a person is under stress. This tremor usually disappears during sleep or improves with a purposeful, intended movement.

Rigidity: Muscle stiffness, or a resistance to movement, affects most people with Parkinson’s. It is not unusual for people to experience stiffness in their arms and legs as they age. With Parkinson’s, this becomes more severe and decreases your range of motion, which can make it difficult to turn your torso, walk or swing your arms. This stiffness may also affect muscles in the face and cause a decrease in facial expressions leaving a person with the constant appearance of looking serious and making it difficult to express emotions. 

Slow movement: A common symptom of Parkinson’s is bradykinesia, or a slowing down of spontaneous and automatic movement. This can include the reduction of automatic movements such as blinking or swinging your arms when walking. It also includes difficulty starting movements like getting out of a chair or reaching for something. Bradykinesia can be particularly frustrating because it is often unpredictable and can make simple tasks difficult. Activities once performed with ease, such as walking, dressing and daily hygiene, may take much longer. 

Changed posture: People with Parkinson’s will exhibit a stooped posture where the body leans forward at the waist, the knees are bent and the shoulders are rounded. This change in posture can lead to neck and back pain. It also impairs balance and can increase the risk of falls. 

Other symptoms associated with Parkinson’s can include:

  • Emotional changes
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Changes in speech
  • Urinary problems or constipation
  • Oily skin, especially on the face and head
  • Sleep problems
  • Dementia
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Sexual dysfunction

These symptoms are shared with other conditions so if you are experiencing any of these symptoms talk with a medical professional for further diagnosis.

If you, or someone you love, is showing symptoms of Parkinson’s, or if you have questions or concerns about Parkinson’s contact Nashville Healthcare Center to schedule an appointment with our neurology team. Learn more about our neurology services by visiting the Neurology Clinic website.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should talk with your primary care physician or other qualified medical professionals regarding diagnosis and treatment of a health condition.

Sources:, “Parkinson’s Disease”, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke part of the National Institutes of Health, March 8, 2023, “Parkinson’s Disease”, National Library of Medicine part of the National Institutes of Health, November 29, 2019, “About Parkinson’s Disease”, National Human Genome Research Institute part of the National Institutes of Health, March 14, 2014