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How Can You Test For Parkinson’s Disease

Testing For Parkinsons Disease

Approach to the Exam for Parkinson’s Disease

There is no lab or imaging test that is recommended or definitive for Parkinsons disease. However, in 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an imaging scan called the DaTscan. This technique allows doctors to see detailed pictures of the brains dopamine system.

A DaTscan involves an injection of a small amount of a radioactive drug and a machine called a single-photon emission computed tomography scanner, similar to an MRI.

The drug binds to dopamine transmitters in the brain, showing where in the brain dopaminergic neurons are.

The results of a DaTscan cant show that you have Parkinsons, but they can help your doctor confirm a diagnosis or rule out a Parkinsons mimic.

Severe Headaches Are A Main Symptom Of Parkinson’s Disease

There are several common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, though severe headaches are not one of them. PD is diagnosed when a person has one or more of the four most common motor symptoms of the disease that include resting tremor, slow movement , rigidity, and difficulty balancing when standing . There are other secondary motor and non-motor symptoms that also occur with PD. Symptoms may be experienced differently by each person and the progression of the disease is different for everyone as well. For example, some people may have tremor as a primary symptom, while another may not have tremors but may have postural instability.

Passive Manipulation Of Limbs

To test for the presence of rigidity, we need to passively manipulate the limbs of the patient. However, If the disease is in its early stage or the symptoms are well controlled with medications, we may not be able to see rigidity. We will need to use some activation maneuvers, that basically consist in performing repetitive movements with the limb contralateral to the one that is being tested.

Also, there are two types of rigidity:

-;;;;;; Lead-pipe rigidity: where the tone is uniformly and smoothly increased throughout the entire range of movement

-;;;;;; Cogwheel rigidity: where a tremor is superimposed on the hypertonia, making the movement irregular due to intermittent increase and reduction of tone

Upper Extremity Testing

For the upper extremity the most sensitive joint where to check for rigidity is the wrist. To uncover rigidity, passively rotate the wrist and feel for a resistance to the movement. It is very important that the arm of the patient is fully relaxed when rotating the wrist. To do this, place your proximal hand under the patients forearm, while your distal hand grabs and rotates the wrist of the patient. When rigidity is present, the range of motion will be preserved but you will feel a resistance in performing the movement.

Wrist rotation with activation maneuver.

It is also possible to test for rigidity in the elbow by passively flexing and extending the forearm.

Elbow flexion-extension with activation maneuver.

Lower Extremity Testing

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Testing For Parkinson’s Disease

There are no blood tests or brain scans that can make the diagnosis of Parkinsons disease. Right now, the diagnosis of Parkinsons disease is still made based on the history and the examination.;;

In some cases, a doctor may order medical imaging such as a; or an ;to make sure nothing else is happening, but these scans will not show any changes relating to Parkinsons disease.

In 2012, the FDA approved a special kind of brain scan called a DaT scan. In this scan, people receive an injection of a dye and then pictures show if there is a brain problem relating to the chemical dopamine. However, this scan was approved only to help figure out if someone with tremor has a disease in the Parkinson family or if their tremor might be related to a different disease called familial essential tremor.;

Most of the time, a neurologist especially a movement disorders specialist can know if someone has a disease in the Parkinson family or familial essential tremor without doing this scan. It is also important to know that this scan cannot help a doctor know if a person has Parkinsons disease or one of the other parkinsonisms. Thus, this scan is only used in a few situations. It is not for everyone who might have Parkinsons disease.

In This Section:

How To Test For Parkinson’s Disease

Is Parkinsons Hereditary?

This article was medically reviewed by Erik Kramer, DO, MPH. Dr. Erik Kramer is a Primary Care Physician at the University of Colorado, specializing in internal medicine, diabetes, and weight management. He received his Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine from the Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2012. Dr. Kramer is a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and is board certified.There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 35,437 times.

Parkinsons Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder affecting both motor and non-motor abilities. It afflicts 1% of those over 60 years of age.XResearch sourceJOHN D. GAZEWOOD, MD, MSPH,D. ROXANNE RICHARDS, MD,KARL CLEBAK, MD, Parkinsons An Update, The American Family Physician, 2013 Feb 15;87:267-273 It is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system. PD is caused by a lack of dopamine, a chemical that helps the parts of your brain responsible for motor function communicate with each other. This condition often causes tremors, muscle stiffness, slowness, and poor balance. If you suspect that you, or someone you love, has Parkinsons, it is important to know how you can diagnose this condition. Begin by trying to identify symptoms of the disease at home, and then see your doctor for an appropriate medical diagnosis.

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Brain Imaging And Other Tools To Aid Diagnosis Of Parkinsons

In addition to taking a history and performing a detailed neurologic examination, physicians sometimes use brain imaging to help support a particular diagnosis. However, these studies have their limitations in the diagnosis of Parkinsons disease and are typically used only in select patients. Brain imaging is not routinely performed by neurologists or movement disorder specialists when they are considering a diagnosis, especially if the persons symptoms strongly suggest to the physician that idiopathic Parkinsons disease is the correct diagnosis.

Helping diagnose Parkinsons with DaTscan and other tests

Rather, use of imaging is most helpful when the diagnosis is uncertain, or when physicians are looking for changes in the brain that are more typical of one of several Parkinsonian syndromes and other conditions that can mimic Parkinsons. Imaging studies to evaluate Parkinsons disease and Parkinsonian syndromes include magnetic resonance imaging , which examines the structure of the brain, and DaTscan, an imaging test approved by the Food and Drug Administration to detect the dopamine function in the brain. A DaTscan may help differentiate idiopathic Parkinsons disease from certain other neurologic disorders. Most physicians offices will have access to MRI; however, DaTscan imaging may only be available at larger hospitals or medical centers.

Looking For Signs Of Parkinsons

Your specialist will examine you to look for common signs of Parkinsons. You may be asked to:

  • write or draw to see if your writing is small or gradually fades
  • walk to see whether theres a reduction in the natural swing of your arm or in your stride length and speed
  • speak to see if your voice is soft or lacks volume

The specialist will also look at and ask you;about your:

  • face to see if there is a masked look or if you have difficulty with facial expressions
  • limbs to see if you have a tremor, any stiffness or slowness of movement

As well as examining you for any of the typical signs of Parkinsons, the specialist will also look for signs that may suggest a different diagnosis.

It may be helpful to take someone with you for support when seeing a specialist. Taking a list of questions you want to ask can also be useful so you dont forget to mention something you want to know about. If a healthcare professional says something you dont understand, dont be afraid to ask them to explain what they mean.

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Gauging Speed Of Movement

Bradykinesia occurs in most people who have Parkinson’s. It may cause a lack of spontaneous facial expression and fewer eye blinks per minute than usual, and your doctor will look for these signs in your physical exam.

Your doctor also may assess your speed of movement by asking you to open and close each hand or tap your index finger against your thumb repeatedly, making large movements as quickly as possible. In people with Parkinson’s disease, the movement may start off fast and precise, but it will deteriorate quickly, becoming slow and limited.

Gait is also another way to test for this. Observing a patient while they walk, noting the length of their stride as well as the speed at which they move, can tell doctors quite a bit. Lack of arm swing is also a feature that appears fairly early in those with Parkinson’s.

If Its Not Parkinsons Disease What Could It Be

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Here are some possibilities:

Side effects of medication: Certain drugs used for mental illnesses like psychosis or major depression can bring on symptoms like the ones caused by Parkinsonâs disease. Anti-nausea drugs can, too, but they typically happen on both sides of your body at the same time. They usually go away a few weeks after you stop taking the medication.

Essential tremor: This is a common movement disorder that causes shaking, most often in your hands or arms. Itâs more noticeable when youâre using them, like when you eat or write. Tremors caused by Parkinsonâs disease usually happen when youâre not moving.

Progressive supranuclear palsy: People with this rare disease can have problems with balance, which may cause them to fall a lot. They donât tend to have tremors, but they do have blurry vision and issues with eye movement. These symptoms usually get worse faster than with Parkinson’s disease.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus : This happens when a certain kind of fluid builds up in your brain and causes pressure. People with NPH usually have trouble walking, a loss of bladder control, and dementia.

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Treatment Options For Early Onset Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons treatment aims to slow the diseases progression. Medication treatment options may include the following:

  • Levodopa is a chemical thats converted to dopamine in the brain. People with early onset Parkinsons may experience more negative side effects, such as involuntary movements.
  • MAO-B inhibitors can help reduce the breakdown of dopamine in the brain.
  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibitors can help extend Levodopas effects on the brain.
  • Anticholinergics can help reduce tremors.
  • Amantadine may be used to improve muscle control and relieve stiffness.

How Is Parkinson’s Disease Managed

Your doctors will tailor your treatment based on your individual circumstances. You will manage your condition best if you have the support of a team, which may include a general practitioner, neurologist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, specialist nurse and dietitian.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, symptoms can be treated with a combination of the following.

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What Causes Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons disease occurs when nerve cells in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra become impaired or die. These cells normally produce dopamine, a chemical that helps the cells of the brain communicate . When these nerve cells become impaired or die, they produce less dopamine. Dopamine is especially important for the operation of another area of the brain called the basal ganglia. This area of the brain is responsible for organizing the brains commands for body movement. The loss of dopamine causes the movement symptoms seen in people with Parkinsons disease.

People with Parkinsons disease also lose another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This chemical is needed for proper functioning of the sympathetic nervous system. This system controls some of the bodys autonomic functions such as digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Loss of norepinephrine causes some of the non-movement-related symptoms of Parkinsons disease.

Scientists arent sure what causes the neurons that produce these neurotransmitter chemicals to die.

Who Are More Likely To Develop Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson

Parkinson’s disease affects both men and women, though about 50% more men are affected than women. The reasons for this are unclear but there are theories that estrogen may cause women to develop the disease less frequently, and when they do, they seem to get a milder form of it. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates about 50,000 people are diagnosed with PD each year in the U.S. However, this number may be higher due to the fact that many people in the early stages of PD assume their symptoms are due to aging and do not seek medical attention. Complicating the diagnosis is that symptoms of Parkinson’s resemble other diseases and there is no one definitive test to diagnose it.

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Blood Test May Help Differentiate Parkinsons From Similar Diseases

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Genetic Testing For Parkinsons Disease

Similar to other complex diseases, the reason a particular person develops Parkinsons disease is likely a combination of genetic makeup and environment. In most people, the genetic contribution to disease development may be due to a number of different genes and the interactions between them. For only a very small percentage of people with PD, about 10%, the disease can be attributed to a single abnormal gene. Figuring out the identity and contributions of all the different genes that play a role in disease development is a very hot topic in PD research today.

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Parkinson’s Disease Is Only Seen In People Of Advanced Age

Parkinson’s disease isn’t just seen in people of advanced age. While it does tend to affect people over age 60 more often, in about 5% to 10% of cases, “early onset” PD can begin in people as young as age 40. The progression of PD is different for everyone, however, those who develop it at earlier ages seem to have a more severe progression. Life expectancy for people with Parkinson’s disease is about the same as the average population, but complications from the disease in the later stages can lead to fatal outcomes from choking, pneumonia, and falling.

How Parkinson’s Disease Is Diagnosed

Is there a test my physician can do to confirm a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis?

Claudia Chaves, MD, is board-certified in cerebrovascular disease and neurology with a subspecialty certification in vascular neurology.

There’s no “gold standard” test that will diagnose Parkinson’s disease . Instead, a physician relies on their own clinical observations and judgment, along with a patient’s description of possible signs and symptoms, to make the diagnosis. That, of course, makes a physical examination very important in this process. Much of your doctor’s exam will be aimed at assessing whether you have the so-called cardinal signs of Parkinson’s: resting tremor, rigidity , bradykinesia and postural instability .

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Tests To Rule Out Other Conditions

Blood tests can help rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, such as abnormal thyroid hormone levels or liver damage.

An MRI or CT scan can check for signs of a stroke or brain tumor, which may cause similar symptoms.

Hydrocephalus due to atrophy can occur with some types of dementia and would be visible with one of these imaging tests. If the person has neurologic symptoms but a normal scan result, Parkinsons disease may be present.

The doctor a lumbar puncture to rule out inflammation or a brain infection.

New Diagnostic Standards For Parkinsons

Until recently, the gold-standard checklist for diagnosis came from the U.K.s Parkinsons Disease Society Brain Bank. It was a checklist that doctors followed to determine if the symptoms they saw fit the disease. But thats now considered outdated. Recently, new criteria from the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society have come into use. This list reflects the most current understanding of the condition. It allows doctors to reach a more accurate diagnosis so patients can begin treatment at earlier stages.

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Tips For Daily Living

If you are already living with Parkinsons disease, here are some tips to manage it:

  • Exercise your brain. Read, work on crossword puzzle, do Sudoku, or engage in other activities that use your brain.
  • Get moving. If you feel comfortable walking, swimming, or riding an exercise bike, go for itand try to do it on a regular basis.
  • Try tai chi. We think of tai chi as a mind-body exercise, and it is, but it also has roots as a martial art in China. A 2012 study found that practicing tai chi helped people with moderate Parkinsons disease maintain stability and balance. And a 2014 study found that tai chi can help people reduce their risk of falling. It incorporates a flowing series of coordinated movements to help you maintain flexibility, strength and balance, and it can be easily adapted to meet your abilities.
  • Practice yoga. You dont have to perform headstands or other physically challenging poses to get significant benefits from practicing yoga. You can improve your balance, mobility, flexibility, and strength with a form thats adapted for you.
  • Find a support group. Whether you prefer an online support group or a group that meets in person, a support group can be an invaluable resource for helping you live with Parkinsons disease.

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