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How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

Parkinson’s is a life-changing condition, and in the anticipation of a diagnosis, there may be hundreds of questions running through your mind. What will happen if I am diagnosed with Parkinson’s? How can my doctor be certain it’s definitely Parkinson’s? Will I have to change my way of life to accommodate the condition?

We understand that the time between noticing your first symptoms and formal diagnosis can be full of anxiety and uncertainty, which is why we’ve partnered up with specialist charity, Parkinson’s Care & Support UK, to help you understand the early signs of Parkinson’s and how the condition is diagnosed.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s

According to Parkinson’s Care and Support UK, there is no single test that can diagnose Parkinson’s. The diagnosis process is not always an easy or straightforward one, but if you believe you are showing symptoms of Parkinson’s, the first step would be to see your GP, who will discuss your family history and symptoms. Here, your doctor may order some lab tests, such as blood tests, to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms before referring to a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

If Parkinson’s is the likely cause of your symptoms, you would then be referred to a neurologist who would ask to carry out what’s called a ‘physical inspection’. This would involve the patient performing certain tasks like walking, and speed reaction tests to gauge whether your symptoms include delayed reactions.

In some cases, you may be referred for an ‘imaging test’, such as a DaTscan, MRI, CT scan, ultrasound of the brain or PET scan, all of which essentially show images of the inside of the body. But more often than not, these scans are mainly used to rule out other conditions, as it can be quite difficult to get a definitive diagnosis for Parkinson’s through one of these scans.

However, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is most likely if you are experiencing at least two of the three following symptoms:

  • Shaking or a tremor in a part of your body that usually only occurs during rest
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Muscle stiffness (rigidity)

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, you may be prescribed a drug called Levodopa, which is currently the most effective treatment of Parkinson’s. If your body responds well to the drug, this could bring further assurance to a formal diagnosis.

Early signs of Parkinson’s

Understanding the early signs of Parkinson’s can be key for diagnosis. It might be that you are noticing slight changes in your body, or that these changes are starting to impact your day-to-day life; acknowledging and understanding these changes can set you on the path to a diagnosis and, subsequently, continuing to live well following that diagnosis.

According to Parkinson’s Care & Support UK, some of the early signs of Parkinson’s could be:

  • Loss of smell
  • Your arm doesn’t swing when you walk
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Tremor
  • Slowness of movement, particularly on one side of the body
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety or depression

If you notice one or more of these symptoms and are concerned you may be showing signs of Parkinson’s, speak to your GP who will be able to guide you through the next steps.

Seeking specialist advice: What do doctors look for when diagnosing Parkinson’s?

First and foremost, your doctor will go through your family history and previous medical background. It will also be helpful for your doctor to know if anybody in your family has previously been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Your doctor will then look at your symptoms, and you may be referred to a specialist such as a neurologist or geriatrician who would carry out some physical or neurological examinations.

What scans are used to detect Parkinson’s?

Your neurologist may suggest a specific Single-photon Emission Computerised Tomography (SPECT) scan, also known as a Dopamine Transporter (DaT) scan, but it can be difficult to specifically diagnose Parkinson’s this way; more often than not, it is used to rule out any other conditions that may have similar symptoms.

Essentially, it is your symptoms and neurologic examination that ultimately determine the right diagnosis, as there are no specific blood or genetic tests that can diagnose Parkinson’s.

Is an early diagnosis possible?

In the early stages, it would be difficult for your GP to say whether you have Parkinson’s or not, as there are so many conditions that have similar symptoms.

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s and are concerned, have a chat with your GP and they will guide you through the process. Without the formal tests and input from your doctor, it’s hard to accurately understand the root cause of your symptoms, so take it one step at a time and try not to worry.

Specialist support for life after a Parkinson’s diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and would like a little extra support at home, our dedicated team of carers are on hand to support in any way you need. If you’d like to speak to one of our experts about receiving Parkinson’s care at home, simply call our customer care specialists on 0333 060 9582 or request a callback and we will call you.

For support or information on an integrative medical plan following a Parkinson’s diagnosis, please click here to visit Parkinson’s Care and Support UK.


Page reviewed by Raj Senniappan, Occupational Therapist on March 15, 2021

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