Parkinson's Disease and the PET Scan

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on November 27, 2022
3 min read

A positron emission topography (PET) scan is a test used to give doctors and their patients more information about how the cells in your body are functioning.

This is done by injecting a small amount of radioactive material known as a tracer into a vein in your arm. The tracer sends out small, positively charged particles (positrons) that interact with negatively charged particles called electrons in your body. The PET scanner is able to detect the product of this interaction and uses it to make an image. This process allows a doctor to look at a body organ from every angle and detect potential problems.

For patients with Parkinson's disease (PD), a PET scan is used to assess activity and function of brain regions involved in movement. However, doctors may request a PET scan for many different reasons. Aside from potential problems in the brain and spinal cord, the test can also be used to diagnose heart problems as well as certain kinds of cancer, including breast, brain, lung, colon, and prostate cancers and lymphoma.

Before undergoing the PET procedure, be sure to tell your doctor of any medication -- prescription or over-the-counter -- that you are taking, as well as any herbal medications you may be using. It is also very important that you tell the doctor if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, since the PET scan can be harmful to an unborn child.

As the test is about to begin, you will be asked to take off clothing that is covering the area of the body to be tested. Depending on the area of your body being tested, you may be asked to undress completely and put on a hospital gown. You will also be asked to remove any dentures, jewelry, or metal objects during the scan, since these items may affect the reading.

A PET scan usually lasts 45-60 minutes. You will first be given the tracer through an IV. After that, the PET scanner, a doughnut-shaped instrument, will move in circles around you. As this is happening, a special camera will take pictures of patterns left by the tracer chemical inside your body.

After the PET scan is finished, you will likely be asked to drink a lot of water or liquids during the next day in order to get rid of or flush the tracer chemical from your system.

Because radiation is part of a PET scan, there is always a small risk that cells or tissue may have received some damage following the procedure. However, the radiation levels from the tracer that is sent throughout the body are very low.

In addition, following the scan, patients may find that their arm is a little bit sore or that they experience redness where the IV was placed in the arm.

PET scans are usually more extensive and detailed than similar tests that are available. Despite this, test results can usually be given within one to two days after the scan.



Show Sources


National Parkinson Foundation: "Should I get a DaT scan or PET scan to confirm my diagnosis of Parkinson's disease?" "PET Scan and Parkinson Disease."

University of Chicago Medical Center: "How Is Parkinson's Disease Diagnosed?"

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