Is it Parkinson's or something else? Blood test might tell
The potential blood test is "not ready for prime time," Parkinson's disease experts said. But, it marks progress in the quest for an objective way to diagnose Parkinson's and similar conditions known as atypical parkinsonian disorders, they noted.
Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that affects nearly 1 million people in the United States alone, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
The root cause is unclear, but as the disease progresses, the brain loses cells that produce dopamine - a chemical that regulates movement. As a result, people suffer symptoms such as tremors, stiff limbs, and balance and coordination problems that gradually worsen over time.
Right now, there is no blood test, brain scan or other objective measure that can definitively diagnose Parkinson's, said James Beck, vice president of scientific affairs for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
"In general, Parkinson's disease is diagnosed with a clinical exam," Beck explained.
The best person to make that call is a neurologist with expertise in movement disorders, according to Beck.
"But," he said, "even highly trained doctors initially get it wrong about 10 percent of the time."
In the earlier stages, Beck said, Parkinson's symptoms can be very similar to those of atypical parkinsonian disorders, or APDs.
APDs are fairly rare, and include conditions known as progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal syndrome and multiple system atrophy.
There is no cure for Parkinson's or APDs, or any way to halt their progression.