If You Notice This While Eating, It Could Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's

Research shows this may be one of the first symptoms you spot.

It's easy for early signs of an illness to go unnoticed when you don't know what you're looking for. Some symptoms are too subtle, while others you might not connect to a specific disorder. Experts say there's one early sign of Parkinson's disease that you can easily miss—and catching and treating it could improve your quality of life and keep you alive longer. To see what you should look out for while eating, read on.

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Difficulty swallowing can be an early sign of Parkinson's disease.

Man having trouble swallowing

According to the Parkinson's Foundation, people with Parkinson's may notice changes or trouble swallowing. The foundation notes that because Parkinson's is a movement disorder, it can affect swallowing, which involves a complex sequence of movements that we don't usually think about. The characteristic slowness of movement that often comes with the disease may translate to trouble getting food or liquid down, the organization explains.

A 2019 paper from the Journal of Movement Disorders concluded that trouble swallowing, formally known as dysphagia, is a common symptom among people with Parkinson's, even in the earliest stages. The paper noted that symptoms of dysphagia were "frequent in the early stages" of Parkinson's and "might be the first sign of the disease."

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Dysphagia is underdiagnosed, so you need to know how to spot it.

Older woman experiencing heartburn

The 2019 paper pointed out that dysphagia is often underdiagnosed "probably due to poor self-awareness of the conditions." Per the Parkinson's Foundation, signs of dysphagia aren't always obvious, and many people who suffer from these symptoms either aren't aware or are unsure of how to describe them. It's important to know that dysphagia doesn't always manifest in a cough or a choking feeling, and can sometimes be subtle.

The foundation says to look out for weight loss without trying, avoiding drinking, the sensation that food is stuck in your throat, drooling, food collecting along the gum line, heartburn, sore throat, and trouble keeping food or liquid in your mouth. If you notice you're experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your healthcare provider.

Early detection of dysphagia can improve the quality of life in Parkinson's patients.

Older woman

Dysphagia can lead to a handful of other issues, so early detection is key. According to the Parkinson's Foundation, trouble swallowing can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration, the latter of which can ultimately lead to aspiration pneumonia—the leading cause of death in Parkinson's patients. Diagnosing dysphagia sooner rather than later can be life-changing. "The early detection and intervention of dysphagia are closely related to improving the quality of life and decreasing the mortality rate" in Parkinson's patients, the study says.

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Other similar signs of Parkinson's include trouble speaking and chewing.

older couple talking on couch
Shutterstock/Adam Gregor

Since Parkinson's affects the movements of the body, swallowing is not the only function that is affected by the disease. The Parkinson's Foundation notes that the muscles in the face, mouth, and throat that are used in speaking and chewing can also be affected. According to the organization, other early signs of the illness include tremor, small handwriting, trouble sleeping, trouble walking, loss of smell, constipation, a grumpy face, a soft voice, fainting, and hunching over.

RELATED: If You Notice This While Walking, It Could Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's.

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