Diagnosing Parkinson's disease can be difficult, especially in its early stages. It has been estimated that nearly 40% of people with the disease may not be diagnosed, and as many as 25% are misdiagnosed. Even as the disease progresses, symptoms may be difficult to assess and may mirror other disorders. For example, tremor may not be apparent while a person is sitting or posture changes may be written off as osteoporosis or simply a sign of aging. Some doctors, who think that tremor is a requirement for diagnosis, may not realize that as many as a third of people with Parkinson's disease may not have tremor.
Furthermore, making the diagnosis is even more difficult since there are currently no blood or lab tests available to diagnose the disease. Some tests, such as a CT Scan (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), may be used to rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms. Given these circumstances, a doctor may need to observe the patient over time to recognize signs of tremor and rigidity, and pair them with other characteristic symptoms. The doctor will also compile a comprehensive history of the patient's symptoms, activity, medications, other medical problems, and exposures to toxic chemicals. This will likely be followed up with a rigorous physical exam with concentration on the functions of the brain and nervous system. Tests are conducted on the patient's reflexes, coordination, muscle strength, and mental function. Making a precise diagnosis is essential for prescribing the correct treatment regimen. The treatment decisions made early in the illness can have profound implications on the long-term success of treatment.
Michael J. Fox has always been a poster boy. With his youthful good looks and intelligent charm, he rose to fame playing a sassy Republican teenage son of ex-hippie parents in the TV sitcom Family Ties. In the blockbuster Back to the Future film trilogy, he was a time traveler with perfect comedic timing. And in a later sitcom, Spin City, he made us wish all politicians were as personable as his Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty.
In 1998, Fox became a poster boy for another reason: He went public with...
Because the diagnosis is based on the doctor's exam of the patient, it is very important that the doctor be experienced in evaluating and diagnosing patients with Parkinson's disease. If Parkinson's disease is suspected, you should see a specialist, preferably a movement disorders trained neurologist.