Parkinson's Disease - Diagnosis

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How is Parkinson's disease diagnosed?

An early and accurate diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is important in developing good treatment strategies to maintain a high quality of life for as long as possible. However, there is no test to diagnose Parkinson's disease with certainty (except after the individual has passed away). A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease - especially in the early phase - can be challenging due to similarities to related movement disorders and other conditions with Parkinson-like symptoms. Individuals may sometimes be misdiagnosed as having another disorder, and sometimes individuals with Parkinson-like symptoms may be inaccurately diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease. It is therefore important to re-evaluate individuals in the early phase on a regular basis to rule out other conditions that may be responsible for the symptoms.

A neurologist who specializes in movement disorders will be able to make the most accurate diagnosis. An initial assessment is made based on medical history, a neurological exam, and the symptoms present. For the medical history, it is important to know whether other family members have Parkinson's disease, what types of medication have been or are being taken, and whether there was exposure to toxins or repeated head trauma in the past. A neurological exam may include an evaluation of coordination, walking, and fine motor tasks involving the hands.

Several guidelines have been published to assist in the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. These include the Hoehn and Yahr scale and the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. Tests are used to measure mental capacity, behavior, mood, daily living activities, and motor function. They can be very helpful in the initial diagnosis, to rule out other disorders, as well as in monitoring the progression of the disease to make therapeutic adjustments. Brain scans and other laboratory tests are also sometimes carried out, mostly to detect other disorders resembling Parkinson's disease.

The diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is more likely if:

  1. at least two of the three major symptoms are present (tremor at rest, muscle rigidity, and slowness);
  2. the onset of symptoms started on one side of the body;
  3. symptoms are not due to secondary causes such as medication or strokes in the area controlling movement; and
  4. symptoms are significantly improved with levodopa (see below).
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See what others are saying

Comment from: bud244825, 35-44 Male (Caregiver) Published: February 07

The love of my life for the last 17 years was diagnosed with Parkinson's last week. In the last year I have noticed the tremors on the left side of his body, and he has a significant loss of strength and mobility in his left arm and left leg. It took me almost a year to get him to go to the doctor. I had long suspected it was Parkinson's but when the doctor confirmed it last week, I really hoped I was wrong. The doctor started him on Sinemet immediately and after a week we are noticing that the tremors are decreasing. We remain hopeful for the future.

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Comment from: 75 or over Female (Caregiver) Published: March 11

My grandma has Parkinson's disease, she is about 75 years old it was detected 7 years ago. Right now it's getting more difficult to live for her, because of stiff muscles she can't even move. L-dopa and carbidopa medicines are given, but won"t give much relief. She can"t eat food and the skin is damaging forming ganglia. This is may be the last stage of disease.

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