If You Notice This in Your Mouth, It May Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's, Experts Say
This telltale sign of Parkinson's is all too easy to overlook.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder that can affect your motor function. While no two cases are exactly alike, individuals with Parkinson's tend to struggle with involuntary stiffness, slowness, and balance issues as their condition worsens.
However, in the early stages of the disease, symptoms can be so minimal that they're often dismissed as mere annoyance. This can lead to a delayed diagnosis and intervention which could in the long term impact quality of life. That's why it's so essential to recognize the subtle signs that could tip you off to a PD diagnosis sooner rather than later. Experts say that one such symptom is in an area of the body that you might not expect: your mouth. Read on to find out what to look out for, and how to distinguish it from similar—but more benign—conditions.
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A tremor in the lips, jaw, or tongue may be an early sign of Parkinson's.
The development of a tremor is one of the most common symptoms of Parkinson's disease, affecting roughly 80 percent of PD patients. These tremors frequently occur in the hands, feet, or legs, and they tend to develop asymmetrically on just one side of the body.
However, there's a lesser known part of the body that can also become affected by Parkinson's tremors, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA). The public charity's experts say that "slow, rhythmic" tremors in the jaw, chin, mouth, or tongue may suggest a Parkinson's diagnosis.
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PD tremors only occur when you're at rest.
Not all tremors are due to Parkinson's—many have other underlying causes. One way to help distinguish between a PD tremor and something else is that those associated with Parkinson's are "resting tremors"—meaning they only occur when that body part is otherwise inactive.
"The tremor appears as a shaking movement when the muscles are relaxed and not being focused on taking action," explains the APDA. If your tremor continues despite intentional movement of that body part, there's likely another explanation. For this reason, many PD patients with a jaw, mouth, or tongue tremor manage this symptom by chewing gum throughout the day.
If your tremor persists when you move, Essential Tremor may be to blame.
If the tremor persists despite intentional movement, the most likely culprit is Essential Tremor (also known as Benign Familial Tremor). Like PD, this condition can cause rhythmic shaking in any part of the body, and is sometimes misdiagnosed as Parkinson's.
"It may be difficult to figure out if a jaw tremor is from Essential Tremor or Parkinson's," explains the APDA. "Unfortunately, some people may have both disorders," the organization adds, noting that some researchers have found "an association between the two conditions, so that more people with Parkinson's disease have Essential Tremor than would be expected by chance alone." However, more research is needed to fully understand the connection between the two conditions.
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While there is no cure for PD, early diagnosis is still key.
Individuals with PD experience tremors because, as the disease progresses, it damages neurons in the brain. These nerve cells are responsible for the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that keeps the body's motor functions operating smoothly. As more cells become damaged or die, communication in the basal ganglia region of the brain becomes frayed. By the time PD patients experience motor symptoms, between 60 and 80 percent of dopamine-generating neurons have already been damaged or destroyed, experts say.
That's why it's so essential to seek immediate medical care if you suspect PD symptoms. As the Mayo Clinic notes, there is currently no cure for Parkinson's, but a combination of medication and lifestyle interventions can help to mitigate your symptoms. Additionally, studies have found that up to 90 percent of patients with disabling tremors see improvements in their symptoms following deep brain stimulation surgery. The sooner you seek out medical evaluation, the sooner you can find a care strategy that works for you.
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