This Sign of Parkinson's Could Show Up 20 Years Before You're Diagnosed


If you have Parkinson's disease, it can be years before you're even diagnosed, as symptoms tend to start gradually and progress over time. In fact, it typically takes a hand tremor developing before many people realize that they have the condition. But while this is one of the most recognizable and well known symptoms of Parkinson's, it might not be your first. Over the years, research has found that there is one sign of this progressive nervous system disorder that can predate tremors by as much as 20 years. Read on to find out what might actually be your first symptom of Parkinson's disease.

RELATED: This Was the First Sign of Parkinson's That Michael J. Fox Noticed.

Constipation is a Parkinson's sign that can show up 20 years before you're diagnosed.

An oft-cited 2009 study published in Neurology looked to see if constipation could precede the onset of the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD), such as tremor and rigidity. The researchers studied data for nearly 200 patients who had developed the disease between 1976 and 1995, and 200 control subjects without Parkinson's.

According to the study, the patients with Parkinson's were nearly two times more likely to have a history of constipation than those without the disease—with the association being evident decades before patients were officially diagnosed. "Indeed, the association remained significant when restricted to constipation documented more than 20 years before the onset of Parkinson's disease," the researchers concluded.

RELATED: Drinking This Kind of Water Increases Your Parkinson's Risk, Studies Show.

Constipation can appear differently from person to person.

The normal amount of time someone experiences in-between bowel movements "varies widely from person to person," according to WebMD. Some people have them up to three times a day, while others only have a few bowel movements each week. With that in mind, constipation will appear differently to different people, as it simply means that your bowel movements are happening less often than what is normal for your body.

In general, WebMD says three or more days without a movement is usually too long, because this makes stool harder and more difficult to pass, which results in constipation. You may also experience symptoms such as straining, hard or small stools, a sense that everything didn't come out, or belly bloating when you have constipation.

Most people with Parkinson's disease will experience constipation at some point.

Whether or not you experience constipation early, if you have Parkinson's, you'll likely experience this symptom at some point. According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, constipation is one of the most frequently reported gastrointestinal symptoms of the disease, with about 60 to 80 percent of patients with Parkinson's experiencing this as a result of their health condition.

"In Parkinson's, constipation can be part of the disease process. PD can affect the autonomic nervous system, a network of nerves that directs bodily functions we don't consciously control, such as blood pressure and digestion," the Michael J. Fox Parkinson's Foundation states on its website. "When digestive tract movement slows in PD, constipation can happen. Recent research also has linked changes in gut bacteria (the microbiome) with Parkinson's disease; these disruptions may contribute to constipation."

RELATED: For more health advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

There are other non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's that can appear early as well.

There are a few non-motor symptoms that could also be some of your earliest signs of Parkinson's, Healthline notes. Other than constipation, these symptoms include a weakening sense of smell and taste, sleep and mood disorders, dizziness, and fainting. The Parkinson's Foundation says these "can occur years before the diagnosis of PD" as well.

Later in your disease, you may also experience other non-movement-related symptoms, such as cognitive changes, excessive sweating fatigue, an increase in dandruff, lightheadedness, pain, urinary and vision problems, and weight loss.

RELATED: 96 Percent of People With Parkinson's Have This in Common, Study Says.