What Doctors Look For When Diagnosing Parkinsons
Certain physical signs and symptoms noticed by the patient or his or her loved ones are usually what prompt a person to see the doctor. These are the symptoms most often noticed by patients or their families:
Shaking or tremor: Called resting tremor, a trembling of a hand or foot that happens when the patient is at rest and typically stops when he or she is active or moving
Bradykinesia: Slowness of movement in the limbs, face, walking or overall body
Rigidity: Stiffness in the arms, legs or trunk
Posture instability: Trouble with balance and possible falls
Once the patient is at the doctors office, the physician:
Takes a medical history and does a physical examination.
Asks about current and past medications. Some medications may cause symptoms that mimic Parkinsons disease.
Performs a neurological examination, testing agility, muscle tone, gait and balance.
Diagnosing Parkinsons Disease At Dignity Health Southern California
As with many other brain and nervous system disorders, doctors do not have a specific test to diagnose Parkinsons disease. This means that before your doctor will determine a Parkinsons diagnosis, they will rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. Diagnosing Parkinsons disease can be challenging, because many other disorders have similar signs and symptoms.
Diagnosing Parkinsons may include:
- Medication history to rule out drug side effects as the cause of your symptoms
- Medical history evaluation, including any family history of Parkinsons disease or other movement disorders
- Imaging studies, including a cutting-edge diagnostic scan called DaTscan, which can differentiate Parkinsons disease from a more common movement problem called essential tremor
- Medication trial to determine if your symptoms improve with established therapy
- Physical examination to assess balance, gait, and muscle tone
This exclusionary approach to diagnosing Parkinsons disease will help your doctor give you an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. You can trust your complete neurological care and testing to the experienced team at Dignity Health Southern California.
Symptoms Of Parkinsons Disease
Parkinson’s disease has four main symptoms:
- Tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls
Symptoms of Parkinsons and the rate of progression differ among individuals. Sometimes people dismiss early symptoms of Parkinson’s as the effects of normal aging. In most cases, there are no medical tests to definitively detect the disease, so it can be difficult to diagnose accurately.
Early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually. For example, affected people may feel mild tremors or have difficulty getting out of a chair. They may notice that they speak too softly, or that their handwriting is slow and looks cramped or small. Friends or family members may be the first to notice changes in someone with early Parkinson’s. They may see that the person’s face lacks expression and animation, or that the person does not move an arm or leg normally.
People with Parkinson’s often develop a parkinsonian gait that includes a tendency to lean forward, small quick steps as if hurrying forward, and reduced swinging of the arms. They also may have trouble initiating or continuing movement.
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What Are The Five Stages Of Parkinson’s Disease
Researchers may disagree on the number of stages of Parkinsons disease . However, they all agree the disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that usually occur in one stage may overlap or occur in another stage. The stage increase in number value for all stage naming systems reflect the increasing severity of the disease. The five stages used by the Parkinsons Foundation are:
- Stage 1: mild symptoms do not interfere with daily activities and occur on one side of the body.
- Stage 2: Symptoms worsen with walking problems and both sides of the body affected.
- Stage 3: Main symptoms worsen with loss of balance and slowness of movement.
- Stage 4: Severity of symptoms require help usually person cannot live alone.
- Stage 5:Caregiver needed for all activities patient may not be able to stand or walk and may be bedridden and may also experience hallucinations and delusions.
A neurologist who specializes in movement disorders will be able to make the most accurate diagnosis. An initial assessment is made based on medical history, a neurological exam, and the symptoms present. For the medical history, it is important to know whether other family members have Parkinson’s disease, what types of medication have been or are being taken, and whether there was exposure to toxins or repeated head trauma previously. A neurological exam may include an evaluation of coordination, walking, and fine motor tasks involving the hands.
The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is more likely if:
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Doctors don’t yet know the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease dementia, but they think it has to do with an accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein. When it builds up in the brain, it can create clumps called “Lewy bodies” in nerve cells, causing them to die.
The death of those cells usually results in the motor symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s disease. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, those Lewy bodies may eventually damage the brain and cause problems with memory and thinking.
While many people with Parkinson’s disease experience cognitive changes, not all of them will go on to develop dementia. It’s estimated that between 50% and 80% of individuals with the disease eventually develop Parkinson’s disease dementia, usually in the later stages of the disease.
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What Medications Are Used To Treat Parkinsons Disease
Medications are the main treatment method for patients with Parkinsons disease. Your doctor will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan best suited for you based on the severity of your disease at the time of diagnosis, side effects of the drug class and success or failure of symptom control of the medications you try.
Medications combat Parkinsons disease by:
- Helping nerve cells in the brain make dopamine.
- Mimicking the effects of dopamine in the brain.
- Blocking an enzyme that breaks down dopamine in the brain.
- Reducing some specific symptoms of Parkinsons disease.
Levodopa: Levodopa is a main treatment for the slowness of movement, tremor, and stiffness symptoms of Parkinsons disease. Nerve cells use levodopa to make dopamine, which replenishes the low amount found in the brain of persons with Parkinsons disease. Levodopa is usually taken with carbidopa to allow more levodopa to reach the brain and to prevent or reduce the nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure and other side effects of levodopa. Sinemet® is available in an immediate release formula and a long-acting, controlled release formula. Rytary® is a newer version of levodopa/carbidopa that is a longer-acting capsule. The newest addition is Inbrija®, which is inhaled levodopa. It is used by people already taking regular carbidopa/levodopa for when they have off episodes .
Do People Actually Lose Their Sense Of Smell With Parkinson’s
A: Yes. It’s a condition called anosmia, and if you have it with no other disease , you have at least a 50 percent chance of developing Parkinson’s disease in the next five to 10 years. What happens is that alpha-synuclein, the protein that clumps in the part of the brain that regulates dopamine and leads to Parkinson’s disease, also aggregates in the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for your sense of smell. This happens well before the protein accumulations cause motor symptoms.
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Medications For People With Parkinsons Disease
Symptoms of Parkinsons disease result from the progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and other organs such as the gut, which produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This causes a deficiency in the availability of dopamine, which is necessary for smooth and controlled movements. Medication therapy focuses on maximising the availability of dopamine in the brain. Medication regimes are individually tailored to your specific need. Parkinsons medications fit into one of the following broad categories:
- levodopa dopamine replacement therapy
- dopamine agonists mimic the action of dopamine
- COMT inhibitors used along with levodopa. This medication blocks an enzyme known as COMT to prevent levodopa breaking down in the intestine, allowing more of it to reach the brain
- anticholinergics block the effect of another brain chemical to rebalance its levels with dopamine
- amantadine has anticholinergic properties and improves dopamine transmission
- MAO type B inhibitors prevent the metabolism of dopamine within the brain.
Do You Know The Signs And Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease
The nervous system plays a large role in the movement of a persons body.
It receives instructions and relays information to the brain. Parkinsons disease forces the body to move in unexpected and unrequested methods. This happens because some of the neurons in the brain break down and die. The result is some abnormal brain activity and odd instructions sent to the body.
Currently, the cause of Parkinsons disease is still under investigation. Research has uncovered some genes in the body which increase the chance of getting Parkinsons disease, but that only makes up a small percentage of cases. Research will certainly continue on the subject. However, with the limited information, treatment becomes paramount. Parkinsons has no cure. This means early identification is important to attempt to treat Parkinsons disease and negate the symptoms sufferers have to deal with. Take this opportunity to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment methods of Parkinsons disease.
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New Diagnostic Standards For Parkinsons
Until recently, the gold-standard checklist for diagnosis came from the U.K.s Parkinsons Disease Society Brain Bank. It was a checklist that doctors followed to determine if the symptoms they saw fit the disease. But thats now considered outdated. Recently, new criteria from the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society have come into use. This list reflects the most current understanding of the condition. It allows doctors to reach a more accurate diagnosis so patients can begin treatment at earlier stages.
How Is Parkinsons Disease Treated
There is no cure for Parkinsons disease. However, medications and other treatments can help relieve some of your symptoms. Exercise can help your Parkinsons symptoms significantly. In addition, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy can help with walking and balance problems, eating and swallowing challenges and speech problems. Surgery is an option for some patients.
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Diagnosis And Management Of Parkinsons Disease
There are no diagnostic tests for Parkinsons. X-rays, scans and blood tests may be used to rule out other conditions. For this reason, getting a diagnosis of Parkinsons may take some time.
No two people with Parkinsons disease will have exactly the same symptoms or treatment. Your doctor or neurologist can help you decide which treatments to use.
People can manage their Parkinsons disease symptoms through:
- seeing a Doctor who specialises in Parkinsons
- multidisciplinary therapy provided for example, by nurses, allied health professionals and counsellors
- deep brain stimulation surgery .
Causes Of Parkinsons Disease
At present, we do not know the cause of Parkinsons disease. In most people there is no family history of Parkinsons Researchers worldwide are investigating possible causes, including:
- environmental triggers, pesticides, toxins, chemicals
- genetic factors
- combinations of environment and genetic factors
- head trauma.
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Stooping Or Hunched Posture
People who have Parkinsons disease may notice changes in their posture due to other symptoms of the disease, such as muscle rigidity.
People naturally stand so that their weight is evenly distributed over their feet. However, people who have Parkinsons disease may start bending forward, making them appear hunched or stooped over.
Surgery For People With Parkinsons Disease
Deep brain stimulation surgery is an option to treat Parkinsons disease symptoms, but it is not suitable for everyone. There are strict criteria and guidelines on who can be a candidate for surgery, and this is something that only your doctor and you can decide. Surgery may be considered early or late in the progression of Parkinsons. When performing deep-brain stimulation surgery, the surgeon places an electrode in the part of the brain most effected by Parkinsons disease. Electrical impulses are introduced to the brain, which has the effect of normalising the brains electrical activity reducing the symptoms of Parkinsons disease. The electrical impulse is introduced using a pacemaker-like device called a stimulator. Thalamotomy and pallidotomy are operations where the surgeon makes an incision on part of the brain. These surgeries aim to alleviate some forms of tremor or unusual movement, but they are rarely performed now.
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Support For People With Parkinsons Disease
Early access to a multidisciplinary support team is important. These teams may include doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dietitians, social workers and specialist nurses. Members of the team assess the person with Parkinsons disease and identify potential difficulties and possible solutions.There are a limited number of multidisciplinary teams in Victoria that specialise in Parkinsons disease management. But generalist teams are becoming more aware of how to help people with Parkinsons disease.
Tremor In Other Conditions
While tremor is a common symptom of Parkinsons, it can also be a symptom of other conditions, most notably essential tremor. The main difference between Parkinsons tremor and most other types of tremor is that in Parkinsons resting tremor is most common. Other conditions are usually characterized by action tremor, which tends to lessen at rest and increase when youre doing something, like trying to make a phone call or take a drink.
Tremors of the head and voice are also common in essential tremor but rare in Parkinsons.
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Studies Of Patients With Non
The Parkinsons Associated Risk Study is an ongoing large study whose goal is to evaluate specific tests for their ability to predict an increased risk of PD. The ultimate goal is to find a set of tests that can predict the future development of PD. The study has evaluated smell tests, questionnaires that probe mood, bowel habits and sleep disorders, as well as the dopamine transporter imaging test, commonly referred to as DaTscan.
A DaTscan involves injecting a small amount of a radioactive tracer into the bloodstream. The tracer makes its way into the brain and binds to the dopamine transporters, which are molecules on the surface of the dopamine neurons. In PD, there are fewer of these neurons and therefore there is less uptake of the tracer in the brain. A brain scan then determines if the amount of uptake of the tracer is normal or decreased. Currently, this test is approved to distinguish between PD and a neurologic condition known as essential tremor, a tremor disorder which is not caused by an abnormality of the dopamine system.
DaTscan is not yet approved to determine if patients who are experiencing only the non-motor symptoms of PD, in fact have PD. However, it is known that a DaTscan can be abnormal even before motor symptoms are present. The PARS study is investigating whether in the future, a DaTscan can be part of an algorithm to determine who is at risk of developing PD.
Tips and takeaways
Dr. Rebecca Gilbert
APDA Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer
Who Gets Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
No two cases of Parkinson’s are exactly alike, so it’s hard to say for sure who will develop Parkinson’s disease dementia and who will not. However, researchers have identified several factors that may increase a person’s risk for Parkinson’s disease dementia, including:
- Older age, especially at the time Parkinson’s symptoms began
- Being a man
- Advancing to late-stage Parkinson’s disease
- Experiencing visual hallucinations
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Parkinson’s disease dementia can’t be diagnosed conclusively by a single test. Instead, doctors may use multiple tests and consider a range of Parkinson’s disease dementia criteria, including symptoms like:
- Feelings of disorientation or confusion
- Agitation or irritability
Not all cases of cognitive impairment are severesome people with Parkinson’s disease can still manage their work and personal life just fine. But once a person has Parkinson’s disease dementia, it usually means that they can no longer go about their daily life as they once did.
Accept What You Can No Longer Do
Over time, it may seem as though you are losing your independence because you can no longer do all the things you once did. As these losses occur, you will probably go through the five stages of grief identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. They include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Being aware of the issue or loss to which you are reacting will help you to move from one stage to another more easily.
No matter what your symptoms are, motor or non-motor symptoms, dont let Parkinsons beat you!
Depression May Be An Early Symptom Of Parkinsons
Depression is one of the most common, and most disabling, non-motor symptoms of Parkinsons disease. As many as 50 per cent of people with Parkinsons experience the symptoms of clinical depression at some stage of the disease. Some people experience depression up to a decade or more before experiencing any motor symptoms of Parkinsons.
Clinical depression and anxiety are underdiagnosed symptoms of Parkinsons. Researchers believe that depression and anxiety in Parkinsons disease may be due to chemical and physical changes in the area of the brain that affect mood as well as movement. These changes are caused by the disease itself.
Here are some suggestions to help identify depression in Parkinsons:
- Mention changes in mood to your physician if they do not ask you about these conditions.
- Complete our Geriatric Depression Scale-15 to record your feelings so you can discuss symptoms with your doctor. Download the answer key and compare your responses.
- delusions and impulse control disorders