Typically, the signs of Parkinson’s disease are quite easy to identify, but what are these signs? And what tests can be done to determine if you, or someone you know, is suspected of having Parkinson’s disease? Dr Prashanth Reddy explains in this article.
Easy to spot symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
There are some straightforward symptoms when it comes to identifying Parkinson’s disease. According to the UK Parkinson’s Disease Society Brain Bank (UKPDSBB), one of the key signs is slowness of movements which progressively becomes slower (bradykinesia). This slowness can affect the initiation of voluntary movement as well as the speed of the movement. The UKPDSBB also says that this slowness is almost always associated with at least one of the following:
- Muscular rigidity
- Balance issues
In tremor-dominant Parkinson’s, as the name suggests, tremors are the dominant symptom. In akinetic-rigid Parkinson’s, tremors are often absent from the range of symptoms and patients have profound bradykinesia.
Before making a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, it’s imperative to exclude other conditions or possibilities first. For example, in older patients, it’s possible to incorrectly attribute their slow movement and rigidity purely to their age, arthritis and the only seemingly present symptom is stiffness.
Harder to spot symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
- Sometimes, a patient with Parkinson’s who doesn’t experience tremors can find that their handwriting becomes progressively smaller.
- Someone with a tremor may find that the tremor stops or becomes much more subtle once they start moving.
- Carers or patients might notice a lack of facial expressions (hypomimia)
- A change in posture
- The inability to flex their leg muscles as such, resulting in shuffling as they walk.
Testing for Parkinson’s disease
Tests are used to eliminate the possibility of other conditions with similar symptoms. A DaTScan is useful if the clinical diagnosis is uncertain to determine if the patient has Parkinson’s disease. Routine blood tests can check if there is a reason for a patient’s increasing physical slowness or if anaemia, vitamin deficiencies or chronic liver or renal disease is at fault.
A tremor can be caused by Parkinson’s or a condition such as hyperthyroidism, side effects of medications or vascular disease of the brain. Tests can be carried out to exclude these conditions and this can be in the form of a brain CT scan or a brain MRI, the latter being more sensitive when distinguishing the cause.
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