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Parkinson’s Disease Testing and Diagnosis

An accurate diagnosis and early treatment can ensure a better quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Our movement disorder specialists are Parkinson’s disease experts. These specialized neurologists have advanced training and experience to give you the most accurate and comprehensive diagnosis. We employ a team approach to build your individualized care plan. This team may include your primary care provider, social workers, physical therapists and others to maximize your treatment outcomes. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s, make an appointment with a Banner Health movement disorder specialist. Find a Doctor near you.

How is Parkinson’s Disease Tested and Diagnosed?

At Banner Brain & Spine, our neurologists have years of experience in testing and diagnosing Parkinson's disease. Our team of compassionate experts knows that each patient is different, so we work with you to quickly find the right diagnosis to begin building your treatment plan.

How to doctors diagnose Parkinson's? 

Parkinson’s is not simple to diagnose. No test exists to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Doctors test and diagnose Parkinson’s based on your medical history, symptoms and neurological and physical exams. 

Many times a primary care provider is the first to suspect a Parkinson’s diagnosis. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as tremors, shaking, slow movement, stiffness and/or trouble with balance, talk to your doctor or seek the opinion of a neurologist. Banner Brain & Spine neurologists are movement disorder specialists, who have experience and specific training to assess and treat Parkinson’s. Learn more about what tests are done to check for Parkinson’s.

Testing for Parkinson’s

Medical history and physical exam: In general, a neurologist makes a Parkinson’s diagnosis based on asking questions about your medical history and symptoms and conducting a physical exam. Consider having a spouse or someone close to you at your appointment to help answer questions and provide perspective.

  • Neurological exam: To evaluate coordination and balance, you may be asked to sit, stand, walk and extend your arms.
  • Imaging tests: Although not always used, the following imaging tests can help doctors evaluate the structure of the brain and rule out other conditions causing symptoms.
    • MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging)
    • PETs (positron emission tomography) scans
    • DaTscans: An imaging technique using a specific type of single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) that helps visualize dopamine transporter levels in the brain.

Stages of Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease affects each patient differently – symptoms vary not only in type, but order and intensity. However, knowing the typical progression of Parkinson’s can help you cope.

  • Stage One: Symptoms are mild and may go unnoticed as they generally don’t interfere with daily living. There may be slight tremor or other movement symptoms to one side of the body. This is the earliest Parkinson’s can be diagnosed and your doctor may take a “wait and see” approach before making a diagnosis.
  • Stage Two: Still considered early in the disease, symptoms become more noticeable. Both sides of the body are now affected and you begin to have problems walking, poor posture and speech abnormalities. Some tasks of daily living become more difficult and time-consuming.
  • Stage Three: Considered mid-stage, stage three is characterized by loss of balance and slowness of movement. Falling becomes more common, but you are still fully independent in your daily living activities, such as eating, dressing and personal care.
  • Stage Four: Symptoms are severely disabling. Some patients may be able to stand or walk, often with the help of a walker. At this point, you’re unable to live alone and need help with activities of daily living.
  • Stage Five: The most advanced and debilitating stage, including muscle stiffness so severe you cannot stand or walk. You also may experience hallucinations or delusions. Nursing care is required.

What Is the Prognosis for Parkinson’s Disease?

The rate at which Parkinson’s progresses varies from patient to patient. Some patients experience its changes over 20 years or more. While others find the disease advances quicker.

Parkinson’s is not a fatal disease. However, secondary complications from symptoms may increase falls, blood clots or pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. These are more common in later stages of Parkinson’s.

In general, the average life expectancy of Parkinson's patients is similar to people without the disease.