It’s not unusual to have some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease without a definite diagnosis. That’s because Parkinson"s is hard to diagnose in its early stages. There is no blood test for the disease. It may take years for the diagnosis to become clear.
You may start by seeing your primary care doctor. But the best doctor to diagnose Parkinson"s is a movement disorder specialist. That"s a neurologist with extra training in conditions like Parkinson"s.
A movement disorder specialist will ask about your symptoms. The doctor also will do a full neurological exam. To make a diagnosis of Parkinson"s, the doctor will want to see at least two of these four symptoms:
The doctor may look at your face to see how it shows emotion. The doctor also might ask you to get into and out of a chair and to walk around the room. The doctor may put all symptoms into what"s called the United Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. Doctors use this to watch how your symptoms change over time. Other symptoms that go along with Parkinson"s include:
These types of symptoms may not be as noticeable as movement symptoms. Even if you think it it’s not related, let your doctor know about anything you’re experiencing that is new or out of the ordinary for you.
Other movement disorders can act like Parkinson"s. That makes it hard to know for sure whether you have the disease, even after a complete exam. However, the loss of dopamine causes Parkinson"s. It"s a chemical made by brain cells. It is important for movement.
For this reason, your doctor may want you to take a dopamine replacement drug called levodopa. Then your doctor will watch to see whether your symptoms improve. If you get better on levodopa, it"s more likely that you have Parkinson"s.
Doctors use two tests that take detailed pictures of your brain. Each one may help your doctor make a diagnosis. These tests are:
Imaging studies are a newer way to diagnose Parkinson"s. However, not every healthcare facility can do them. It takes an experienced doctor to interpret the scans accurately. These scans also can be very expensive. Be sure to check with your insurance company ahead of time to see whether you are covered and what your out-of-pocket costs will be.
Doctors also keep in mind other factors when diagnosing Parkinson"s. For instance: