Making a Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis
Parkinson's disease is usually diagnosed by a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in conditions of the nervous system), who can evaluate symptoms and their severity. This disease may be difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose, because early symptoms may be vague and they can mimic other conditions or even be dismissed as normal aging. Also, there is currently no test that can clearly identify the disease.
People with suspected Parkinson's disease are sometimes given Parkinson's disease medications to see if they respond. Other tests, such as brain scans, can help healthcare providers decide if a person has true Parkinson's disease or some other condition that resembles it.
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 Parkinson's disease diagnosis (see Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease for more information).
Parkinson's disease is the most common form of parkinsonism, the name for a group of disorders with similar features. These conditions share similar symptoms, and all are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.
Parkinson's disease is also called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson's disease (idiopathic is a term used to describe a condition for which no cause has yet been found). In the other forms of parkinsonism, either the cause is known or suspected, or the condition occurs as a secondary effect of another, primary neurological disorder.
Parkinson's Disease StagesOnce diagnosed, several rating systems are in place to determine the stage of Parkinson's disease. A widely used scale categorizes people with the disease into one of five stages. These stages can help healthcare providers decide what treatment to recommend. They can also help families gain a better understanding of how Parkinson's disease progresses. The overall effect and severity of these symptoms increases with each of these stages.
Healthcare providers may also describe Parkinson's disease stages as early, moderate, and advanced.
(Click Stages of Parkinson's Disease for more information.)