Traveling that diagnosis road to Parkinson’s disease may take a while. The reason? There are other conditions that mimic the symptoms of Parkinson’s like the telltale tremors and shaking and even affected balance and gait. The problem is that there is no definitive test that says, “Yes you have Parkinson’s.” Doctors have to rule out other diseases and conditions first, hence the longer road to a diagnosis.
It is important to note that a diagnosis of the disease is based on a number of factors with your medical history, genetic history and several neurological exams leading the pack. Increasingly, doctors are also using a smell test as well. It was discovered that losing your sense of smell is a precursor of the disease and may occur up to several years before the first telltale signs of tremors start. An early diagnosis can mean treatment introduced early enough to delay disease progression.
Sometimes, doctors are guessing and will prescribe a known medication for Parkinson’s disease. If your symptoms improve, the doctors then have a good idea (obviously) that Parkinson’s is indeed the problem. As mentioned before, no definitive test exists that conclusively labels your diagnosis. Instead, the doctor will conduct several blood tests that will test for other conditions in order to rule them out. Sometimes, other health concerns can mimic Parkinson’s such as abnormal thyroid, liver, brain tumor or stroke.
An MRI or CT scan may be prescribed to check for signs of a tumor or stroke. As Parkinson’s disease develops as a result of a lack of dopamine, a PET scan may be performed. This imaging test can detect low levels of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter produced by the substantia nigra area of the brain. The PET scan is not altogether common however. The test is very expensive and not all insurance plans are willing to cover it. In addition, not every hospital has the equipment to do a PET scan and for the most part, it is only really used in research.
Some of the latest clinical trial breakthroughs involve a new type of blood test that could possibly definitively diagnose Parkinson’s disease. The blood test search for molecular biomarkers which form a particular pattern in the results that could accurately pinpoint Parkinson’s for the first time via a simple blood test. What researchers have done is study the very molecules found in the blood of known Parkinson’s patients and compared them to healthy subjects. There are several unique metabolic patterns that are unique to Parkinson’s patients.
While still in the testing phase this new type of blood test is revolutionary and could make strides in the study of Parkinson’s disease. There is still testing to be done but who knows? In a few years, testing for Parkinson’s disease could be a part of every yearly physical in doctor’s offices around the world. For sure, there are plenty of other clinical trials and testing going on from gene therapy to stem cell research. By keeping up with the latest news about Parkinson’s you could end up finding a trial you qualify for and get the help you need for your disease.