A NEW study by North-East researchers could help earlier diagnosis of Parkinson 's disease.

While movement - motor - problems are the main symptom of Parkinson's, non-motor problems such as drooling, anxiety and bowel problems affect a large number of patients and begin sooner than previously thought.

Earlier diagnosis could lead to earlier treatment and allow patients to have a better quality of life.

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In the study, published in the journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers from Newcastle University compared 159 people with newly-diagnosed Parkinson's disease to 99 people of similar ages who did not have the disease.

Participants were asked whether they experienced any of the 30 non-motor symptoms screened for, including sexual problems, sleep problems and gastrointestinal problems.

Study author Dr Tien K. Khoo said: "Often people don't even mention these symptoms to their doctors, and doctors don't ask about them, yet many times they can be treated effectively."

The people with Parkinson's disease had an average of eight of the non-motor problems, compared to three non-motor symptoms for the people who did not have the disease.

Among the most common symptoms for those with Parkinson's disease included drooling, urinary urgency, constipation, anxiety and a reduced sense of smell.

These were all significantly more common in people with Parkinson's disease than in those without the disease.

Dr Khoo said: "These results show that Parkinson's affects many systems in the body, even in its earliest stages.

"Often these symptoms affect people's quality of life just as much if not more than the movement problems that come with the disease.

"Both doctors and patients need to bring these symptoms up and consider available treatments."

Newcastle University's Professor David Burn, chief investigator of the project, said: "Hopefully clinicians can use these findings to improve the treatment of the thousands of people worldwide who suffer with Parkinson's disease.

"The earlier we can get a diagnosis the quicker treatment can start and patient's quality of life will improve."