How Is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed?

Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. It is a relatively common condition, but it can be difficult to diagnose. Here is some useful information about the different methods that are used to diagnose the disease, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

New Diagnostic Standards Exist

The Movement Disorder Society released new diagnostic standards for Parkinson’s disease in 2013. These guidelines were developed in order to improve the accuracy of diagnoses and help doctors distinguish between different types of movement disorders.

The criteria for diagnosing Parkinson’s include the presence of motor symptoms, as well as nonmotor symptoms, such as cognitive impairment and depression. The guidelines also specify that a patient must have had at least two of the four cardinal signs for a diagnosis to be made. These signs are tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and postural instability.

What Doctors Look For When Diagnosing

Fortunately, the newer diagnostic guidelines have been shown to be more accurate than the previous ones, and these guidelines are also more specific about the different types of movement disorders that can be confused with Parkinson’s disease. For example, tremors that occur from drug or alcohol abuse can now be distinguished from those caused by Parkinson’s.

The new guidelines are also useful for diagnosing early-stage Parkinson’s disease. In some cases, patients who do not meet the full criteria for a diagnosis may still be classified as having probable or possible Parkinson’s disease. This can help to track the progression of the disease and monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

Testing For Parkinson’s

While there’s no lab or imaging test that can specifically diagnose Parkinson’s disease, there are a number of tests that can be used to rule out other conditions. These tests include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
  • Imaging scans such as MRI and PET scans
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Genetic tests
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

Doctors recommend certain labs for these tests and Lab CAP accreditations are crucial for choosing a laboratory. An accredited laboratory meets the rigorous quality standards set by independent, third-party organizations.

Can Parkinson’s Be Diagnosed Early?

In some cases, Parkinson’s disease can be diagnosed early on, especially if someone has family members who have been diagnosed with the condition. However, many people do not experience any symptoms until later in life. It is estimated that about 60% of patients are not properly diagnosed until after they have started to experience significant problems with movement.

Parkinson's Disease

Before the motor symptoms start, doctors may look for evidence of nonmotor symptoms. This can include things like cognitive impairment, depression, and changes in eating or sleeping habits. There are also a number of tests that can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s before obvious symptoms manifest themselves.

The Available Treatments

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are a number of treatments that can help improve quality of life, which include:

  • Medications, such as levodopa and dopamine agonists
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Surgery, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS)

There are also a number of support groups and resources available for people dealing with the disease and for their families.

What To Know About Parkinson’s

Keep in mind that Parkinson’s disease is a complex condition that can be difficult to diagnose. The good news is that the more recent diagnostic guidelines provide doctors with better information about different types of movement disorders that can be confused with Parkinson’s disease.

There are also a number of tests that can be used to rule out other conditions as well as treatments available for people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. If you are diagnosed or have a family member who is — you are not alone. There are a number of support groups and resources that exist to help you manage this condition.

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