The signs of Parkinson's disease

Theo Wargo/Getty ImagesMichael J. Fox

Q: A friend of mine recently retired from teaching. She used to be on her feet all day, but now she’s slowed down and gained weight. The other day I noticed that her hands and shoulders were shaking as she was working in the kitchen. Could she be developing Parkinson’s?

— Katie M., Muncie, Ind.

A: If someone shows signs of Parkinson’s disease — trouble with balance, tremors or shaking in lips, hand, arms and/or legs — it’s important that he or she see a specialist and get a diagnosis ASAP. Here’s why:

Reason No. 1: It could be something else. Sometimes medications, either by themselves or in combination, can produce symptoms similar to Parkinson’s, which develops when your brain stops producing enough dopamine. If that’s the problem, adjustments to medications may be necessary or even urgent.

And there’s a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus that can mimic Parkinson’s, a stroke or Alzheimer’s. It’s reversible with surgical intervention.

Reason No. 2: Early diagnosis of Parkinson’s gives you the best chance of finding effective treatment (using medications and short bouts of intense physical activity-therapy) that slows progression and improves day-to-day living.

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at 31; he’s now 52. During the past 19 years, he’s started his own foundation (michaeljfox.org) to raise awareness of Parkinson’s, and done more writing (three books) and acting (a new series) than most artists do in a lifetime. He’s living proof of the importance of early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

More than 60,000 North Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease annually, and your friend may (or may not) be one of them.

But whatever she has, her best hope for the best outcome is to get evaluated by a qualified professional pronto.

Early diagnosis can be difficult, but research indicates that using a transcranial sonogram can ID neural changes and pinpoint the cause of tremors more precisely.

We hope you’re good enough friends to talk about this openly. Good luck to your friend and you.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.

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