Symptoms of Early-Onset Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder that causes tremors, coordination problems, and difficulties with walking and speech, is most common in individuals over age 50. However, it does occur in younger adults, too. In fact, some 10 percent of the 1 million Americans with Parkinson's are diagnosed at a young age, and they're considered to have young-onset Parkinson's, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

 "Although it's rare, Parkinson's can be diagnosed in a young person," says Guy Schwartz, MD, neurologist at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Great Neck, NY. "And even before the onset of the physical symptoms, there can be early signs of the illness. These can precede Parkinson's by a decade or more."

Non-motor symptoms typically occur first, explains Roy Alcalay, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University School of Medicine in New York City. "Symptoms like chronic constipation and depression are very common," he says. But, he adds, having depression doesn't automatically mean you're headed for a diagnosis of Parkinson's.  Difficulty sleeping, oily or dry skin, and even changes in handwriting are also possible symptoms.

Other warning signs of young-onset Parkinson's may include small tremors, a constant aching in the arm or shoulder, and perhaps a loss of the sense of smell. A tremor typically starts in one hand but it can also affect the foot or jaw. As for the loss of one's sense of smell, it also can occur in those without Parkinson's, Alcalay says. "For instance, loss of smell could be due to smoking," he explains.

Motor symptoms appear a bit later. These can include stiffness in one of the limbs or a general slowness. "When people are younger, such as in their early 40s, and they complain of stiffness, you don't think of Parkinson's." Alcalay says. "It's more common to consider a sports-related injury instead."

Alcalay's advice: if you're concerned, see a doctor. "I advise against second guessing and self-examination since these can be stressful without being helpful," Alcalay says. "Being diagnosed early is important so that you can plan and receive treatment when you need it."

While Parkinson's is not curable, it is treatable. "The treatment is really three-pronged," Schwartz explains. "There's exercise, medication, and surgery. Patients can often maintain a good quality of life for many years to come."


"Parkinson's Disease Research Web Overview." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

"Doctors find Parkinson's affecting younger patients." 24 May 2010. National Parkinson Foundation.