Diagnosis

Doctor with female patient Parkinson’s disease can be difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages. The initial diagnosis of any disease can be hard for patients and families.  Some individuals may wait years for a correct diagnosis.

Specialists use several methods to determine the cause of your Parkinsonism.  Parkinsonism is a term that refers to several diseases resulting from dopamine deficiencies in the part of the brain that controls movement.  As a result, some may feel a sense of relief after diagnosis because they have finally received an explanation for their symptoms.  Whether or not you feel some sense of relief at diagnosis, coping with the news can be challenging.  The best line of defense for anyone facing a new diagnosis is education and information.  There are helpful resources to educate yourself and minimize fear and uncertainty following diagnosis.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by four key motor symptoms, including: tremor or shaking when resting; slowness of movement (bradykinesia); muscle rigidity or stiffness; and postural instability (poor balance and coordination).  Parkinson’s disease may be diagnosed for patients who suffer from at least two of these four cardinal symptoms.

There is no single medical test to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.  Many patients are diagnosed by their general physician and referred to a specialist, such as a neurologist or movement disorder specialist.  PAC recommends seeing a movement disorder specialist or neurologist who treats people with Parkinson’s disease on a regular basis.   Clinicians will diagnose based on your self-reported medical history and evaluation of a neurological test.

Many specialists will test your response to PD medication to further confirm their diagnosis.  In other words, if your doctor prescribes Parkinson’s medication for your motor symptoms and the symptoms subside, then it is likely Parkinson’s disease is responsible for your symptoms.  A CT Scan, PET scan or DaTscan may also be utilized to help in diagnosis or exclude other possible causes of your symptoms.  A DatScan is a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease which is used to evaluated dopamine activity in the brain.  Remember, these tools cannot definitely diagnose PD alone, but they can help your neurologist along the way.

DatScan

Early-onset Parkinson’s, also known as young-onset, follows the same difficult diagnosis pattern as typical Parkinson’s disease but the individual is much younger.  There is conflicting information on what age constitutes early-onset PD, but most agree a diagnosis under the age of 50 is considered Early-onset.  On one hand, early-onset PD seems to progress more slowly and indicates a lower chance of dementia.   On the other hand, higher rates of dystonia and dyskinesia  typically can accompany early-onset PD.

If you are experiencing symptoms, PAC recommends you consult a neurologist or movement disorder specialist as soon as possible.

Diagnosis Articles

American Academy of Neurology: PD A guide for patients and families

APDA Recommendations for Healthy Aging

APDA YOPD Handbook 11-2008

NPF FDA approves DaTscan

NPF Young Onset Parkinsons

PDF Understanding Parkinson’s Plus Syndromes and Atypical Parkinsonism

PDF The Placebo Effect & Research

PDF Seeking Out A Specialist

Video Links

NPFGuru: How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?

NPFGuru: Is there a cure for Parkinson’s disease? How is it treated?

NPFGuru: What are the different forms and stages of Parkinson’s disease?

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