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Parkinson's Disease Center

Parkinson Diagnosis

Parkinson Disease is difficult to diagnose, especially during the early stages of the disease.  There is no definitive test to determine if you have Parkinson's.  In fact, before you have received a diagnosis of Parkinson's, several years may have passed.  However, there are several things that your doctor can do to help diagnose you.

Medical exam
To first seek diagnosis see a primary physician.  Your doctor will first want a brief update on your medical history.  Your medical history is relevant, especially if other family members have Parkinson's.  So be sure to have an updated account of the occurrence of Parkinsons in your family.  Also relevant is if you have been taking any medications that interfere with normal dopamine functioning in your brain.  It's helpful to take a current list of Parkinson medication with you to keep track of all the medicines, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.

Visual examinations
Your doctor may next test how your body behaves in normal situations.  For you to be diagnosed with Parkinson's, you must display two main types of muscular difficulties, with no alternative explanation for the difficulty in movement (e.g. due to medication).  The limbs may be examined for tremors by a visual inspection.  And, walking may be examined as well, to determine if your arms are moving, and if you have difficulty keeping your balance.  Other visual tests may be performed to examine your muscular control, or lack thereof. 

Dopamine test
After a visual inspection, your doctor may prescribe a short-term dosage of a drug that will allow your brain to produce more normal amounts of dopamine.  If your symptoms subside, then your positive interaction with the drug will serve as further evidence. 

Other diagnostic possibilities
Additionally, your doctor will want to eliminate the following conditions as causing symptoms that may mimic Parkinson's:

  • Essential tremor, in which tremor is the only symptom
  • Multiple system atrophy, characterized by early and prominent autonomic symptoms
  • Poisoning by carbon monoxide, manganese, or certain pesticides
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy characterized by inability to look downward
  • Vascular (related to blood vessels) parkinsonism, caused by multiple small strokes

Although there is no definitive test to determine if you have Parkinson's, patience and consistency can help you arrive at a diagnosis.  Understand that years may pass before a definitive diagnosis is made.  During this time, you may seek several other doctors' opinions for your symptoms, adding to the frustration.  However, once a diagnosis is made, you can begin treatment.  To learn more about treatment options that can make daily life easier for people with Parkinson disease, read the section on Parkinson therapy for additional information. 

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