April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Published: Friday, April 2, 2021

by: Lucia Gristina, MBA-HCM, CNMT, RT(N)
Supervisor NM, PET/CT & Radiation Safety

What is Parkinson’s Disease and how is it diagnosed?

Did you know that more than one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 more are diagnosed each year? During Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Northeast Georgia Health System wants to help you understand what Parkinson’s Disease is, if you are at risk and how it is diagnosed.  

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder that can lead to motor symptoms. In most patients, symptoms start gradually and progress to tremors or difficulty with movement and coordination. In many cases, Parkinson’s can lead to changes in mood and behavior, too.

Parkinson’s Disease is the most common among the group of movement disorders, called Parkinsonian syndromes. All of these disorders result in a loss of dopamine-producing neurons and have similar symptoms. Parkinson’s Disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease.

While there is not a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, symptoms can be managed with medication. Patients may be prescribed L-DOPA that can be converted in the brain to dopamine. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to regulate your symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

  • Tremors
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
  • Rigid muscles
  • Impaired posture and balance
  • Loss of automatic movements 
  • Speech changes
  • Writing changes

Are you at Risk for Parkinson’s Disease?

In the United States, one person is diagnosed every 9 minutes with Parkinson’s Disease.

Are you at risk? Risk factors include:

  • Gender – Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than women.
  • Age – Most people develop Parkinson’s in middle or late life, and your risk increases with age.
  • Family history – You are more likely to develop Parkinson’s if you have a family history of the disease.
  • Exposure to toxins – You are more likely to develop Parkinson’s if you have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides over time.

How is Parkinson’s Disease diagnosed?

Parkinson’s Disease is generally diagnosed by a trained physician during a physical exam. During the exam, a doctor will interview the patient, perform a visual assessment to determine if they have signs or symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease such as tremors, certain facial expressions and stiffness throughout the body. The doctor will also perform a neurologic examination or use brain imaging to help support a diagnosis.

Imaging tests can help physicians distinguish between Parkinson’s-related diseases and other neurological disorders, which in early stages may resemble Parkinson’s Disease.

Imaging studies to evaluate Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinsonian syndromes include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which examines the structure of the brain. MRI is available through our imaging centers.
  • DaTscan, an imaging test approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), detect dopamine function in the brain. DaTscan are available through the Nuclear Medicine Department at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

Please consult your physician on the best course of treatment and for more detailed information about you or your condition.

Learn More

To learn more, contact Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Neurology, call 770-219-6520.