A diagnosis of Parkinson's is made based on the clinical signs and symptoms that a person has and their past medical history. There are no pathology or imaging tests currently available that we can use to reliably diagnose Parkinson's. Doctors will often order tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computerised Tomography (CT) but this is usually to exclude other conditions. In some cases diagnosis can be difficult and, for some people, getting a correct diagnosis can take quite a long time. We also know from autopsy studies that up to 25% of diagnoses are proven incorrect at time of death.
So what is happening to improve diagnosis. The race is really on to find a 'biomarker' for Parkinson's. A Parkinson's biomarker is molecule, gene, or characteristic which can be identified to indicate the presence of Parkinson's. Biomarkers can also often be used to measure the severity or the progression of a condition. There is a range of research occurring in Australia and overseas to identify a Parkinson's biomarker. Areas of research range from new diagnostic imaging techniques, identification of particular substances in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid (fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord), or even on the skin, changes in our senses including sight and smell through to the measurement of how a person draws a spiral on a touch sensitive pad. It may well be that a several tests will be needed to diagnose Parkinson's.
The identification of a biomarker is particularly important as we get closer to having therapies that will alter the course of Parkinson’s. We do know that by the time someone is diagnosed now that they have already lost around 75% of the brains cells impacted by Parkinson's, so the earlier we can identify someone in the very early stages of the condition the better chance we will have to slow or stop the condition progressing.
Until we have a test for Parkinson's the best chance of getting an accurate diagnosis is to be reviewed by a neurologist that specialises in movement disorders such as Parkinson's.
You can get more information on diagnosis and other Parkinson's issues at www.parkinsons.org.au or by ringing our infoline on 1800 644 189.