How is Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosed?

Diagnosing PD is sometimes difficult, since early features may be difficult to assess and may mimic other disorders. For example, tremor may not be apparent as a person is sitting at rest. Posture changes may be mistaken for osteoporosis or simply a sign of aging.

There are currently no sophisticated blood or laboratory tests available to diagnose the disease. Some imaging tests, such as CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, may be used to rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms. A detailed neurologic history will be taken. This will include questions about the patient’s symptoms, medications, and the possible exposure to toxins. A doctor may need to observe the patient over time in order to recognize signs of tremor and rigidity. A doctor may try to pair these signs with other characteristic symptoms.

Because the diagnosis is based on the doctor’s examination of the patient, it is very important that the doctor be experienced in evaluating and diagnosing patients with PD. If there is any question whether or not a patient has PD, the patient should see a specialist, preferably a movement disorders-trained neurologist. The treatment decisions made early in the illness can affect the long-term success of the treatment.

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