Parkinson’s disease is a condition of the brain and central nervous system that most people recognize by its motor symptoms, which include tremors, muscle rigidity, impaired balance, and slowness of movement (bradykinesia). However, most people with Parkinson’s also develop non-motor symptoms, which ultimately may be even more disabling.
Such non-motor symptoms of the neurodegenerative disorder can include depression and anxiety, sleeping problems, fatigue, and cognitive changes.
While these symptoms do not affect movement, coordination, or physical tasks, they also usually worsen over time, and can make managing the disease more difficult. Many people experience some non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s years before they are diagnosed with the disease.
Motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s often are discussed as separate problems. But it’s important to note that these symptoms can overlap and affect each other, informing each individual person’s experience. For example, impairment of the muscles that control the mouth and throat — a motor symptom — can lead to complications that aren’t directly motor-related, such as excessive drooling and abnormal speech.
Sudden drops in blood pressure — a non-motor symptom — also can occur, which may lead to feelings of dizziness and, in some extreme cases, loss of balance that can cause falls.
The following are the main non-motor symptoms of Parkinsons:
Types of non-motor symptoms
- Emotional and mood changes, which can include depression, anxiety, and irritability. Antidepressant drugs can be taken to treat depression. Counseling also may be effective in dealing with such problems.
- Cognitive changes or dementia associated with memory, language, and thinking problems.
- Hallucinations and delusions — collectively referred to as psychosis — causing people to see, hear or experience things that aren’t real (hallucinations), or believe that things aren’t true (delusions). Nuplazid is an approved medicine for the treatment of hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease.
- Orthostatic hypotension, or a sudden drop in blood pressure that occurs when a person stands up from a sitting or lying position. It causes dizziness and, in extreme cases, loss of balance and fainting.
- Sleeping problems such as insomnia, nightmares, emotional dreams, and restless sleep.
- Constipation or urinary problems.
- Skin problems such as oily skin, particularly on the forehead and at the sides of the nose, and in some cases, on the scalp. In other cases, the skin becomes very dry.
- Pain associated with muscle and joints rigidity. Treatment with levodopa, a medication that temporarily restores dopamine in the brain, can help relieve pain symptoms, as can certain types of exercise.
- Fatigue and loss of energy, which may result from other symptoms, such as depression, sleep problems, or muscle stress. Exercise, good sleeping habits, staying mentally active, or not engaging in too many activities may help in relieving these symptoms.
- Sexual problems. Parkinson’s disease affects nerve signals from the brain, which may cause sexual problems. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, also may contribute to these problems.
- Muscle cramps and dystonia. Muscle cramps are associated with muscle rigidity, especially in the legs and toes. Massages, stretching, and applying heat may help with cramps. Dystonia results from the variation of dopamine levels that trigger muscle contraction.
In addition to these symptoms, people with Parkinson’s may experience vision problems, excessive sweating (especially in the hands and feet with no or little exercise), loss of smell, weight loss or weight gain, and impulsive behaviors. Some side effects may be due to medications.
Last updated: Aug 20, 2021.
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