Parkinson’s disease usually progresses gradually, but stress, an infection, or issues with medications can contribute to a sudden deterioration in symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the loss of dopamine-producing cells in your brain, primarily affecting movement, causing tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

Parkinson’s usually progresses slowly over time, but certain events may cause the disorder to worsen suddenly. You might notice more severe symptoms, like challenges with speech and swallowing, increased difficulty with movement, and changes in your mood and ability to think.

This article explores the possible causes of sudden Parkinson’s progression, symptoms to look for, and how it might affect treatment and life expectancy.

As Parkinson’s disease progresses, you may notice worsening symptoms. These can include:

  • changes in sleep patterns
  • challenges with speech and swallowing
  • increased feelings of depression or anxiety
  • more difficulty with movement, such as tremors or stiffness
  • slower movements, making tasks like walking or getting up from a chair more challenging
  • changes in your mood and ability to think
  • persistent fatigue and weakness

If you experience these symptoms, consider talking with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and appropriate management.

While Parkinson’s disease typically progresses gradually, several factors can lead to a sudden worsening of symptoms, including:

  • Infections: Infections like urinary tract infections can cause sudden progression of Parkinson’s. These can cause changes in cells’ chemical reactions and increase inflammation, affecting brain function.
  • Emotional stress: Stressful events or emotional trauma, anxiety, and depression can worsen Parkinson’s symptoms. Your body’s stress response can affect your brain’s neurotransmitter levels, leading to sudden movement changes.
  • Medication-related complications: Certain medications used to manage Parkinson’s disease symptoms, such as levodopa, can lead to unpredictable changes known as “off” episodes. During these episodes, symptoms worsen suddenly, severely affecting your movement abilities.
  • Medication timing and dosage: Irregularities in the timing or dosage of Parkinson’s medications can contribute to symptoms worsening suddenly. Missing doses, taking medications at inconsistent intervals, or incorrect dosages can lead to changes in symptom severity and movements.

In the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease, treatment options may include:

  • Medications: As Parkinson’s advances, the response to common medications like levodopa may reduce, leading to changes in movement-related symptoms. A healthcare professional may consider alternative delivery methods, such as injections or continuous infusion, to enhance the effectiveness of levodopa-based medications.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS): DBS involves implanting a pulse generator in the chest wall, connected to wires placed in specific brain areas. Electrical currents from the generator help stimulate the affected areas, which may relieve symptoms.
  • Supportive therapies: A healthcare professional may also recommend supportive therapies such as physical, occupational, or speech-language therapy. These can help improve your movements, balance, coordination, speech, and quality of life.
  • Palliative care: As Parkinson’s disease progresses, you may experience symptoms unrelated to movement difficulties, such as pain, sleep disturbances, mood changes, and changes in your ability to think. Palliative care focuses on providing holistic support to manage these symptoms and improve overall quality of life.

The progression of Parkinson’s disease varies from person to person and can be difficult to predict. Therefore, it’s challenging to predict the life expectancy of someone with Parkinson’s disease after sudden worsening symptoms.

However, a 2018 study suggested that people with Parkinson’s disease can have a near-typical life expectancy, especially if they have typical memory and thinking abilities.

Here are some frequently asked questions about Parkinson’s worsening suddenly.

At what stage of Parkinson’s does dementia start?

Dementia in Parkinson’s disease typically starts in the later stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, difficulties with memory and thinking abilities can develop, leading to Parkinson’s disease dementia. However, not every person with Parkinson’s may develop dementia, and the progression and severity can also vary.

What happens when someone with Parkinson’s can no longer swallow?

Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) in Parkinson’s disease often worsens with disease progression and can lead to complications such as aspiration pneumonia.

Possible management of dysphagia in Parkinson’s disease may include adjusting food consistency or alternative methods, such as nasogastric tube feeding or percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy feeding, to continue getting enough nutrition.

What is the average age of death for someone with Parkinson’s?

The average age of death for someone with Parkinson’s disease can vary, depending on individual factors and overall health. However, the 2018 study above showed that the average life expectancy for people with Parkinson’s is generally similar to those without the condition, around 82 years old.

Can Parkinson’s stay mild?

Parkinson’s disease is progressive, meaning symptoms gradually worsen over time. However, the progression rate can vary between people. Some people experience a milder form of the disease, with slow symptom progression and minimal effects on their daily activities, while others’ symptoms may progress more quickly.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms that worsen suddenly may show up as increased difficulty with movement, slower movements, or changes in your mood and ability to think. You might have other symptoms, too, like changes in your sleep patterns, challenges with speech and swallowing, and having more feelings of depression or anxiety.

If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, consider talking with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and management.