If You Notice This Around Your Mouth, Get Checked for Parkinson's

Call your doctor immediately if you experience this subtle symptom.

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder that affects the central nervous system. Though the condition is typically associated with tremor, stiffness, and loss of balance, those features can often be accompanied by a vast range of other surprising symptoms. In fact, experts warn that there's one little-known symptom associated with Parkinson's that you may notice around your mouth. Experts say that despite being virtually unknown in the mainstream, one third of those with PD experience this odd phenomenon. Read on to find out which sign to look out for, and what to do if you notice it happening to you.

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If you notice involuntary movement of your mouth or jaw, get checked for PD.

Man experiencing jaw pain

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, if you experience uncontrolled movement in the mouth or jaw, it could be a symptom of Parkinson's disease. This condition is known among medical professionals as oromandibular dystonia, or Meige's Syndrome. This type of dystonia "affects the lower facial and jaw muscles causing involuntary opening, closing, or deviation of the jaw. The tongue may also be involved," explains the organization.

Though the symptom often begins as a minor twitch or tightness in the jaw or face, it can develop into more serious, prolonged contractions which can cause difficulty with speech and chewing over time.

Parkinson's causes nerve cell damage in the brain, triggering the symptom in as many as one third of PD patients. "Experts believe dystonia results from excessive signals arising from the brain that cause muscles to contract inappropriately. However, the exact reason why the brain delivers these excessive signals is not completely understood," notes the Dystonia Foundation.

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Dystonia sometimes affects these other areas of the body.

Problems with feet, joints, legs and ankles.

Though oromandibular dystonia specifically relates to the face, jaw, and tongue, there are several other types of dystonia that can be associated with PD and may affect different parts of the body. These other types can affect the neck and head (cervical dystonia), the legs, feet, arms, and hands (limb dystonia), the vocal cords (laryngeal dystonia), or eyes (blepharospasm).

Be sure to speak with your medical provider if you notice involuntary movement or prolonged muscle contractions in any area of your body.

It can also occur unrelated to Parkinson's.

older man with dementia holding hands with doctor
Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

There are two main types of dystonia: primary and secondary. In primary dystonia, the movement disorder occurs on its own, and is the only clinical feature of the illness. In secondary dystonia, the form associated with Parkinson's, the patient will also experience other symptoms related to their PD. These most often include tremor, rigidity, and slowness of movement, says the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

A handful of other neurological disorders are also associated with secondary dystonia. These include Wilson's disease, Huntington's disease, methylmalonic acidonia, and spinocerebellar ataxias.

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Several treatment options are available if this happens to you.

elderly man looking at a pill bottle the doctor just gave him

If you do notice symptoms of dystonia around your mouth or anywhere else, you should first contact a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. They may prescribe an oral medication such as Klonopin, Valium, or Artane, which have been shown to improve involuntary movement symptoms in roughly one third of cases. Alternatively, they may recommend botulism injections, deep brain stimulation surgery, or muscle relaxants to minimize unintentional movement. The Michael J. Fox Foundation notes that physical and occupational therapy can also improve one's outcome.

Though the diagnosis can be daunting, the Dystonia Foundation offers a message of hope to those experiencing these unsettling symptoms. "Living well with oromandibular dystonia is possible," they write. "The early stages of symptom onset, diagnosis, and seeking effective treatment are often the most challenging." The key is to seek medical evaluation as soon as you first notice a problem and begin treatment—for dystonia and Parkinson's—as soon as possible.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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