How Parkinson’s Disease Is Diagnosed
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 .
Testing For Parkinsons 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.
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.
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Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography
In single photon emission computed tomography , a gamma ray-emitting radioactive isotope is tagged to a molecule of interest , which is given to the person with by intravenous injection. The labelled cocaine derivatives 123I–CIT and 123I-FP-CIT tropane) have most commonly been used, although only the latter is licensed in the UK. These label the presynaptic dopamine re- site and thus the presynaptic neurone, which can be visualised in two-dimensional images. These demonstrate normal uptake in the caudate and putamen in controls and in people with essential tremor, neuroleptic-induced parkinsonism or psychogenic parkinsonism, but reduced uptake in those with PD, PD with dementia, or .
How useful is SPECT in discriminating from alternative conditions?
Causes Of Early Onset Parkinsons Disease
Its unclear exactly what causes Parkinsons at any age. Genetic factors, environmental factors, or some combination of the two may play a role. This condition occurs when cells are lost in the part of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for sending brain signals that control movement.
Certain genes are associated with early onset Parkinsons.
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, studies show that 65 percent of people with Parkinsons who experience onset before age 20 may do so because of a genetic mutation. This organization also suggests this mutation affects 32 percent of people who experience onset between age 20 and 30.
Environmental causes of the condition may include exposure to chemical toxins such as certain insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes Parkinsons as a disease caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a synthetic chemical herbicide that was used to spray vegetation and trees during the Vietnam War.
You may have a higher risk of developing Parkinsons if you:
- are a man
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Surgery For People With Parkinsons Disease
Deep brain stimulation surgery is an option to treat Parkinsons disease symptoms, but it is not suitable for everyone. There are strict criteria and guidelines on who can be a candidate for surgery, and this is something that only your doctor and you can decide. Surgery may be considered early or late in the progression of Parkinsons.;When performing deep-brain stimulation surgery, the surgeon places an electrode in the part of the brain most effected by Parkinsons disease. Electrical impulses are introduced to the brain, which has the effect of normalising the brains electrical activity reducing the symptoms of Parkinsons disease. The electrical impulse is introduced using a pacemaker-like device called a stimulator.;Thalamotomy and pallidotomy are operations where the surgeon makes an incision on part of the brain. These surgeries aim to alleviate some forms of tremor or unusual movement, but they are rarely performed now.
Incidence Of Parkinsons Disease
Its estimated that approximately four people per 1,000 in Australia have Parkinsons disease, with the incidence increasing to one in 100 over the age of 60. In Australia, there are approximately 80,000 people living with Parkinsons disease, with one in five of these people being diagnosed before the age of 50. In Victoria, more than 2,225 people are newly diagnosed with Parkinsons every year.
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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.
What Are The Stages Of Parkinsons
Neurologists often use a system of stages, called the Hoehn and Yahr scale, to describe the progression of symptoms. These stages are:
- Stage 1;Symptoms are seen on one side of the body only.
- Stage 2;Symptoms are seen on both sides of the body. There’s no impairment of balance.
- Stage 3;Balance impairment has begun. In this mild to moderate stage of the disease, the person is still physically independent.
- Stage 4;This stage is marked by severe disability, but the person is still able to walk or stand unassisted.
- Stage 5;The person is wheelchair-bound or bedridden unless assisted.
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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.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease
In the very deep parts of the brain, there is a collection of nerve cells that help control movement, known as the basal ganglia . In a person with Parkinson’s disease, these nerve cells are damaged and do not work as well as they should.
These nerve cells make and use a brain chemical called;dopamine; to send messages to other parts of the brain to coordinate body movements. When someone has Parkinson’s disease, dopamine levels are low. So, the body doesn’t get the right messages it needs to move normally.
Experts agree that low dopamine levels in the brain cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but no one really knows why the nerve cells that produce dopamine get damaged and die.
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What Is Rem Behavior Disorder And How Is It Connected To Parkinson’s
A: REM behavior disorder is different than other sleep problems, like insomnia. People who have it may jerk or kick it’s as though they are acting out their dreams. In a similar pattern to anosmia, people with idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder have at least a 50 percent chance of eventually developing Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosing Early Onset Parkinsons Disease
There is no single test to detect Parkinsons. A diagnosis may be difficult and take a while. The condition is usually diagnosed by a neurologist based on a review of your symptoms and a physical exam.
A DaTscan to visualize your brains dopamine system may help confirm diagnosis. Blood tests and other imaging tests, such as an MRI scan, dont diagnose Parkinsons. However, they may be used to rule out other conditions.
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How Does Alcohol Affect Parkinsons Symptoms
In general, alcohol can be harmful to people with chronic conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , overconsuming alcohol can be a long-term risk factor for a weakened immune system, learning and memory problems, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and various types of cancer. When looking specifically at Parkinsons symptoms, however, reports differ on how alcohol and PD may be linked.
The type of alcoholic beverage consumed may affect whether drinking has an impact on PD. A 2013 study found that the risk for developing Parkinson’s disease appeared to increase depending on the amount of liquor consumed, although no link was conclusively found between drinking wine and the development of PD.
In terms of how long-term alcohol use affects the risk of PD, one study published in 2013 followed people who had been admitted to the hospital with alcohol use disorders for up to 37 years. The study authors found that a history of alcohol abuse increased the risk of admission into the hospital for Parkinsons for both men and women. The study authors suggested that chronically drinking too much alcohol can have neurotoxic effects on dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain that is relevant to Parkinson’s disease.
There may also be factors other than observable symptoms such as how alcohol interacts with your medication that are important to consider when making decisions about your lifestyle and drinking habits.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinsons disease occurs when;brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working or die. Because PD can cause tremor, slowness, stiffness, and walking and balance problems, it is called a movement disorder. But constipation, depression, memory problems and other non-movement symptoms also can be part of Parkinsons. PD is a lifelong and progressive disease, which means that symptoms slowly worsen over time.
The experience of living with Parkinson’s over the course of a lifetime is;unique to each person. As symptoms and progression vary from person to person, neither you nor your doctor can predict which symptoms you will get, when you will get them or how severe they will be. Even though broad paths of similarity are observed among individuals with PD as the disease progresses, there is no guarantee you will experience what you see in others.
Parkinsons affects;nearly 1 million people in the United States;and;more than 6 million people worldwide.
For an in-depth guide to navigating Parkinsons disease and living well as the disease progresses, check out our;Parkinsons 360 toolkit.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Dr. Rachel Dolhun, a movement disorder specialist and vice president of medical communications at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, breaks down the basics of Parkinson’s.
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Primary Symptoms Of Parkinsons
The symptoms someone has and how quickly the condition develops will differ from one person to the next. Always consult your doctor to determine if the symptoms youre experiencing may be a sign of Parkinsons disease or a sign of other health issues.
Slowness of Movement
Individuals with Parkinsons disease experience a change in spontaneous movement that causes them to move or respond slowly. The face may lack changing facial expressions .
Tremors occur in about 70% of those living with Parkinsons. Typically, the tremor appears on one side of the body in the hand or foot while relaxed or at rest.
Muscles may fail to relax like normal muscles causing the individual to appear rigid and have a decreased range of motion. Rigidity can cause posture changes. Tightness of the muscles of the body may be painful.
Loss of some reflexes needed to maintain an upright posture may cause individuals to be unstable when standing. The presence of postural instability increases the likelihood of falling.
Secondary motor symptoms include:
Non-motor symptoms of PD include:
- Oily skin, flaky red patches near hairline, nose
- Variable blood pressure
- Mood changes anxiety and depression
- Cognitive changes
- Excessive or low sex drive
- Excessive sweating especially of hands and feet
- Frequent urination and incontinence
Is Parkinsons Disease Inherited
Scientists have discovered gene mutations that are associated with Parkinsons disease.
There is some belief that some cases of early-onset Parkinsons disease disease starting before age 50 may be inherited. Scientists identified a gene mutation in people with Parkinsons disease whose brains contain Lewy bodies, which are clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein. Scientists are trying to understand the function of this protein and its relationship to genetic mutations that are sometimes seen in Parkinsons disease and in people with a type of dementia called Lewy body dementia.
Several other gene mutations have been found to play a role in Parkinsons disease. Mutations in these genes cause abnormal cell functioning, which affects the nerve cells ability to release dopamine and causes nerve cell death. Researchers are still trying to discover what causes these genes to mutate in order to understand how gene mutations influence the development of Parkinsons disease.
Scientists think that about 10% to 15% of persons with Parkinsons disease may have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to development of the disease. There are also environmental factors involved that are not fully understood.
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Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery
As Parkinsons disease progresses, deep brain stimulation surgery may become an option. Our team is one of the most experienced in the United States. Under the direction of Dr. Delaram Safarpour, Dr. Kim Burchiel, an OHSU neurosurgeon, pioneered asleep DBS so you dont have to be awake during surgery.
For this procedure, our team places tiny electrodes in your brain. The electrodes are connected to a small pacemaker-like device placed under the skin of your chest. The device sends mild electrical pulses to regulate movement and control Parkinsons symptoms such as:
In some parts of the state, you can have follow-up care at a doctors office in your community.
Colin Halstead had deep brain stimulation surgery at OHSU to treat his Parkinsons. It gave me my life back, he says.
What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make To Ease Parkinsons Symptoms
Exercise: Exercise helps improve muscle strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, and tremor. It is also strongly believed to improve memory, thinking and reduce the risk of falls and decrease anxiety and depression. One study in persons with Parkinsons disease showed that 2.5 hours of exercise per week resulted in improved ability to move and a slower decline in quality of life compared to those who didnt exercise or didnt start until later in the course of their disease. Some exercises to consider include strengthening or resistance training, stretching exercises or aerobics . All types of exercise are helpful.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet: This is not only good for your general health but can ease some of the non-movement related symptoms of Parkinsons, such as constipation. Eating foods high in fiber in particular can relieve constipation. The Mediterranean diet is one example of a healthy diet.
Preventing falls and maintaining balance: Falls are a frequent complication of Parkinson’s. While you can do many things to reduce your risk of falling, the two most important are: 1) to work with your doctor to ensure that your treatments whether medicines or deep brain stimulation are optimal; and 2) to consult with a physical therapist who can assess your walking and balance. The physical therapist is the expert when it comes to recommending assistive devices or exercise to improve safety and preventing falls.
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What Is Parkinsons Disease
Parkinsons disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects mobility and mental ability. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinsons, you may be wondering about life expectancy.
According to some research, on average, people with Parkinsons can expect to live almost as long as those who dont have the condition.
What Are The Ways To Prevent Parkinsons Disease In A Patient
According to the research done so far, doctors and scientists believe that Parkinsons disease is triggered through a combination of genetic factors and exposure to factors like trauma and certain kinds of toxins and illness. Thus, the Parkinsons disease cannot be prevented as of now since proper etiology is yet to be discovered.
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Determining Diagnosis Through Response To Parkinsons Medication
If a persons symptoms and neurologic examination are only suggestive of Parkinsons disease or if the diagnosis is otherwise in doubt, the physician may, nevertheless, prescribe a medication intended for Parkinsons disease to provide additional information. In the case of idiopathic Parkinsons, there is typically a positive, predictable response to Parkinsons disease medication; in the case of some related Parkinsonian syndromes, the response to medication may not be particularly robust, or it may be absent entirely.
Unfortunately, there are no standard biological tests for the disease, such as a blood test. However, researchers are actively trying to find biomarkers in blood and other bodily fluids that could help confirm the diagnosis.