Signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease


The most recognizable symptoms in Parkinson's disease are movement. Non-motor symptoms, which include autonomic dysfunction, neuropsychiatric problems (mood, cognition, behavior or thought alterations), and sensory (especially altered sense of smell) and sleep difficulties, are also common. Some of these non-motor symptoms may be present at the time of diagnosis.


Four motor symptoms are considered cardinal in PD: tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), rigidity, and postural instability.

The most common presenting sign is a coarse slow tremor of the hand at rest which disappears during voluntary movement of the affected arm and in the deeper stages of sleep. It typically appears in only one hand, eventually affecting both hands as the disease progresses. Frequency of PD tremor is between 4 and 6 hertz (cycles per second). A feature of tremor is pill-rolling, the tendency of the index finger and thumb to touch and perform together a circular movement. The term derives from the similarity between the movement of people with PD and the early pharmaceutical technique of manually making pills.

Bradykinesia (slowness of movement) is found in every case of PD, and is due to disturbances in motor planning of movement initiation, and associated with difficulties along the whole course of the movement process, from planning to initiation to execution of a movement. Performance of sequential and simultaneous movement is impaired. Bradykinesia is the most handicapping symptom of Parkinson’s disease leading to difficulties with everyday tasks such as dressing, feeding, and bathing. It leads to particular difficulty in carrying out two independent motor activities at the same time and can be made worse by emotional stress or concurrent illnesses. Paradoxically patients with Parkinson's disease can often ride a bicycle or climb stairs more easily than walk on a level. While most physicians may readily notice bradykinesia, formal assessment requires a patient to do repetitive movements with their fingers and feet.

Rigidity is stiffness and resistance to limb movement caused by increased muscle tone, an excessive and continuous contraction of muscles. In parkinsonism, the rigidity can be uniform, known as "lead-pipe rigidity," or ratchety, known as "cogwheel rigidity." The combination of tremor and increased tone is considered to be at the origin of cogwheel rigidity. Rigidity may be associated with joint pain; such pain being a frequent initial manifestation of the disease. In early stages of Parkinson's disease, rigidity is often asymmetrical and it tends to affect the neck and shoulder muscles prior to the muscles of the face and extremities.With the progression of the disease, rigidity typically affects the whole body and reduces the ability to move.

Postural instability is typical in the later stages of the disease, leading to impaired balance and frequent falls, and secondarily to bone fractures, loss of confidence, and reduced mobility.Instability is often absent in the initial stages, especially in younger people, especially prior to the development of bilateral symptoms. Up to 40% of people diagnosed with PD may experience falls and around 10% may have falls weekly, with the number of falls being related to the severity of PD.


Other recognized motor signs and symptoms include gait and posture disturbances such as festination (rapid shuffling steps and a forward-flexed posture when walking with no flexed arm swing). Freezing of gait (brief arrests when the feet seem to get stuck to the floor, especially on turning or changing direction), a slurred monotonous quiet voice, mask-like facial expression, and handwriting that gets smaller and smaller are other common signs.


Parkinson's disease can cause neuropsychiatric disturbances, which can range from mild to severe. This includes disorders of cognition, mood, behavior, and thought.

Cognitive disturbances can occur in the early stages of the disease and sometimes prior to diagnosis, and increase in prevalence with duration of the disease. The most common cognitive deficit in PD is executive dysfunction, which can include problems with planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition, inhibiting inappropriate actions, initiating appropriate actions, working memory, and control of attention.Other cognitive difficulties include slowed cognitive processing speed, impaired recall and impaired perception and estimation of time. Nevertheless, improvement appears when recall is aided by cues. Visuospatial difficulties are also part of the disease, seen for example when the individual is asked to perform tests of facial recognition and perception of the orientation of drawn lines.

A person with PD has two to six times the risk of dementia compared to the general population. Up to 78% of people with PD have Parkinson's disease dementia. The prevalence of dementia increases with age and, to a lesser degree, duration of the disease. Dementia is associated with a reduced quality of life in people with PD and their caregivers, increased mortality, and a higher probability of needing nursing home care.

Impulse control disorders including pathological gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, binge eating, compulsive shopping and reckless generosity can be caused by medication, particularly orally active dopamine agonists. The dopamine dysregulation syndrome – with wanting of medication leading to overusage – is a rare complication of levodopa use.

Behavior and mood alterations are more common in PD without cognitive impairment than in the general population, and are usually present in PD with dementia. The most frequent mood difficulties are depression, apathy, and anxiety. Establishing the diagnosis of depression is complicated by the fact that the body language of depression may masquerade as PD including a sad expressionless anxious face, a hang dog appearance, slow movement, and monotonous speech. Up to 30% of people with PD may experience symptoms of anxiety, ranging from a generalized anxiety disorder to social phobia, panic disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders. They contribute to impaired quality of life and increased severity of motor symptoms such as on/off fluctuations or freezing episodes.

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