Because Parkinson’s disease (PD) is considered a progressive motor disorder, its symptoms typically start small and become more pronounced over time. While some patients’ PD journey begins with a telltale tremor, others may experience subtle non-motor symptoms instead. Experts say that there’s one such symptom that you may notice in your mouth which could indicate a PD diagnosis—and though it flies under the radar for many PD patients, it’s known to occur in up to 80 percent of cases. Read on to find out which symptom you may notice in your mouth and what to do next if you spot a problem.
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If you notice excessive salivation, get checked for Parkinson’s disease.
Though non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are often overlooked, experts say that they are common. In particular, many PD patients experience sialorrhea—excessive salivation which can sometimes lead to drooling. “Sialorrhea in PD is thought to be caused by impaired or infrequent swallowing, rather than hypersecretion,” a study published in the medical journal Movement Disorders reveals, noting that this symptom occurs in many Parkinson’s patients.
In fact, sialorrhea is a common symptom of many neurological diseases. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Toxins, “Sialorrhea has been under-recognized in Parkinson’s disease patients. Despite this, many patients rank sialorrhea as one of the most debilitating complaints of Parkinson’s disease.” Patients say this is in part because of the social stigma associated with drooling, though it can also cause irritation of the skin, as well as respiratory infections.
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Excessive salivation may be related to other non-motor symptoms of PD.
According to the Parkinson’s Alliance, excessive salivation often occurs in conjunction with several other non-motor symptoms of PD. These include excessive sweating, low blood pressure, and constipation. If you notice these symptoms occurring at the same time as sialorrhea, reach out to your medical provider for a PD assessment.
You should also keep an eye out for more traditionally recognized symptoms of Parkinson’s. These include tremors, balance problems, a shortened gait, muscle stiffness, facial masking, and changes in handwriting, among others.
Your doctor may be able to help you find relief.
There are several ways that your doctor may be able to help you combat this particular symptom, experts say. “Oral medications, botulinum toxin injections, surgical interventions, radiotherapy, speech therapy, and trials of devices may be used to treat sialorrhea in PD,” explains the Movement Disorders study, noting that more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of those treatments.
Early interventions, such as physical therapy, may also help control sialorrhea, given that the underlying cause can sometimes be muscular. By working to maintain coordination in the face, mouth, tongue, and throat, you may be able to minimize the effects of these symptoms/
Sialorrhea isn’t a symptom of Parkinson’s alone.
If you do develop excessive salivation as an adult, Parkinson’s is considered the most likely cause, “with 70 to 80 percent of PD patients demonstrating sialorrhea,” according to a separate study published in Toxins in 2013.
However, there are several other reasons you may experience this symptom. Your doctor may wish to screen you for other neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or cerebral palsy (CP), or to review any medications you take which could cause sialorrhea as a side effect. In some cases, “Pathologic sialorrhea can be an isolated phenomenon due to hypersalivation,” which can be caused by problems in the salivary glands. If you notice any major changes in your swallow reflex or salivation, talk to your doctor to figure out the root cause—Parkinson’s or not—as soon as possible.
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