Some of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) overlap with other neurological conditions. This can make PD a difficult diagnosis, particularly in the early stages.
Parkinson’s disease: The diagnosis
This story is part of an ongoing educational series presented by the Good Samaritan Society addressing Parkinson's disease and those who live with it.
Contributing to the difficulty is the lack of diagnostic blood or imaging tests. These types of tests are more helpful in ruling out other diagnoses than confirming a PD diagnosis.
This means that a diagnosis of PD is based on a person's symptoms, a careful physical exam and elimination of other causes. The doctor will look for two or more PD signs to be present to make the diagnosis.
Symptoms will usually start on one side of the body, although they may eventually spread to the other side over a period of a few years. Common symptoms include:
- Shaking or tremors
- Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
- Stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs or trunk
- Trouble with balance and possible falls (postural instability)
Some conditions that have similar symptoms to PD are:
When the symptoms are caused by PD, treatment with a medication called carbidova-levodopa often helps considerably, and can confirm a PD diagnosis.
Because PD is tricky to diagnose and will require a lifetime of symptom management with medications and lifestyle changes, it is important to have the diagnosis confirmed by a neurologist with expertise in movement disorders.
The progression of Parkinson’s disease is somewhat unique to each person. Some people will be able to run a marathon with medication and treatment; some will not be able to walk on their own. Some of the most challenging issues related to PD are medication side effects, such as dyskinesia. Make sure you choose a doctor that you are comfortable talking with about the diagnosis, what to expect, and how to manage the medications.
A diagnosis of PD can be frightening – remember that help is available.
A Parkinson's diagnosis is not a death sentence.
With the right therapy, many people flourish.