Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease

Because symptoms of Parkinson's disease may be vague and can mimic signs of other conditions, healthcare providers may have difficulty making a diagnosis. To determine if someone has Parkinson's disease, a healthcare provider typically starts by asking several questions and performing a physical exam. In some cases, other tests may be used to rule out other conditions.

How Is Parkinson's Disease Diagnosed?

Parkinson's disease may be difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose because early symptoms may be vague (see Early Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease), and they can mimic other conditions or even be dismissed as normal aging. 
In order to make a diagnosis, a healthcare provider will begin by asking a number of questions (this is known as taking a medical history). Some of these may include questions about:
  • Your current symptoms
  • Other medical conditions you have
  • Medications you may be taking.
He or she will also perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Tests and Procedures for Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease can also be hard to diagnose early on because there are no tests or procedures that can definitely diagnose the condition. Your healthcare provider may recommend several tests and/or procedures to help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. This may involve blood tests or a brain scan. However, brain scans (such as a CT scan or an MRI) generally appear normal in a person with Parkinson's disease.

Is It Parkinson's Disease or Another Condition?

Several medical conditions can share similar symptoms with Parkinson's disease, especially during the early stages. Your healthcare provider will consider these before making a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Some of these conditions fall under a group of disorders with similar features called Parkinson syndromes, or parkinsonism. These disorders share several symptoms, and all are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.
Parkinson's is also called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson's disease. Idiopathic is a term describing a disorder for which no cause has yet been found.
In the other forms of parkinsonism, either the cause is known or suspected, or the disorder occurs as a secondary effect of another, primary neurological disorder.
Besides Parkinson's disease, other forms of parkinsonism include:
  • Postencephalitic parkinsonism
  • Drug-induced parkinsonism
  • Striatonigral degeneration
  • Arteriosclerotic parkinsonism
  • Toxin-induced parkinsonism (such as carbon monoxide or cyanide)
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Accompanying other conditions, such as:
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Parkinson's Disease Information

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