Parkinson’s is a progressive and fluctuating neurological condition that affects movements such as walking, writing, and swallowing.

Parkinson’s occurs when there are cells lost from the part of the brain that controls movement. These lost cells are the cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger that allows us to perform co-ordinated movements by transmitting messages between nerve cells and muscles. If approximately 80% of the dopamine-producing nerve cells have been lost, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear.

It is not known what causes the depletion of dopamine-producing cells. Research into the cause is currently focused on genetic and environmental factors and how they interact to cause the condition.

There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s

Tremor – shaking normally begins in one hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the affected part of the body is at rest. Tremor will usually lessen when the affected part is being used, and may become noticeable to others when a person affected by Parkinson’s is anxious or excited.

Muscular rigidity or stiffness – People may notice that they begin to experience problems with everyday mobility such as getting out of bed or fastening a button. For some people, their posture and facial expressions may be affected by stiffness.

Slowness of movement – people with Parkinson’s may find that initiating movements becomes increasingly difficult or that it takes them longer to perform movements.

There are other symptoms that you may experience with Parkinson’s such as tiredness, pain and depression.

Not everyone with Parkinson’s experiences the same combination of symptoms- they vary from person to person.

Parkinson’s and bowel problems

People with Parkinson’s may at some time or another experience some bowel problems.

Constipation is the most common bowel problem associated with Parkinson’s. When related to Parkinson’s, constipation has several causes;

The muscles of the bowel wall can be affected due to problems with mobility and rigidity.

Lack of movement and exercise means that the bowel is not stimulated to function normally.

As some people with Parkinson’s have problems with swallowing, they may be unable to eat a diet with enough fibre.

Some people do not drink enough fluid and this can cause the motions to be harder and more difficult to pass.

Actually emptying the bowel can be a problem, it might be difficult to brace the abdominal muscles to assist bowel emptying and the anal sphincter may not relax at the right time to allow the stool to be passed easily.

How to manage Parkinson’s and bowel problems

It is important to follow a healthy lifestyle and include as much activity as you can. Gentle exercise will stimulate your bowel and may prevent constipation.

It is essential to make sure you drink enough and eat a diet that is rich in fibre, which can be found in fruit, vegetables and cereals. Swallowing problems make it difficult to eat a diet with plenty of fibre. A speech and language therapist can give advice about this.

Try and maintain a good position when emptying the bowels. If your feet don’t reach the floor, a footstool may help you to get in a better position to empty your bowel. An occupational therapist will be able to advise you on how to make it physically easier to go to the toilet.

Who can help you?

If you are experiencing problems on a regular basis or for a prolonged period of time there is plenty of professional help available. Ideally you should speak to a healthcare professional who understands the nature of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s nurses are experienced registered general nurses who have completed a special course in Parkinson’s. They can help you manage your symptoms effectively. To find out if there is a Parkinson’s nurse in your area contact your GP or specialist. You can also contact the Parkinson’s UK helpline on 0808 800 0303 or email [email protected]

Alternatively you should discuss any problems with your Parkinson’s specialist. They can refer you on to other health and social care professionals, such a speech and language therapist for help with swallowing problems, or a dietitian for advice on fibre and supplements.

They may also refer you to an occupational therapist, who can advise on equipment to help with everyday activities such as going to the toilet.

Parkinson’s UK produces a booklet called Looking after your bladder and bowels when you have Parkinson’s. You can view this booklet, as well as information on all aspects of living with the condition, on the website at You can also order the booklet from our distributor on 01473 212 115.