Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressing, degenerative disease related to the brain’s loss of the chemical dopamine, which controls coordinated muscle movement. More than 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by:

  • Tremor or trembling of the arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiff limbs and trunk
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia)
  • Balance and coordination problems

Other common symptoms include a shuffling gait, lack of facial expression, stooped posture and difficulty changing position. Non-motor symptoms include depression, fearfulness, sleep disturbance, difficulty sleeping and urinary urgency.

Parkinson’s is more likely to affect men than women, with an average age of onset of 60. Individuals with a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s are twice is likely to develop the disease, but researchers believe the link is both genetic and environmental.

The early symptoms of Parkinson’s sometimes mimic other illnesses, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and have a complete neurological examination with an accurate medical history. Your doctor may need to observe your symptoms over time to reach a conclusive diagnosis.

To eliminate a diagnosis of other diseases or conditions, your doctor may also order additional tests, including:

  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) — to rule out a tumor or stroke
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — to rule out a neuromuscular disease
hand holding fork parkinsons disease movement disorder diagnosis.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but neurologists at CDH and Delnor Hospital provide a number of treatments that can help you live a long and productive life, including:

  • Medication — every Parkinson’s patient reacts differently to medication, so your doctor will prescribe, observe and adjust to find the right medication for you
  • Complementary and supportive therapies — a regimen of diet, exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy has proven to be effective in lessening the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • Surgery — depending on the severity of your muscle tremor or rigidity, your doctor may recommend deep brain stimulation (DBS) Cadence-health-information — Small electrodes are placed in the parts of the brain that control movement to interrupt the normal flow of information and help decrease Parkinson’s symptoms
  • RadiosurgeryGamma Knife® Radiosurgery is sometimes recommended to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. With less damage to healthy tissues, Gamma Knife® offers a less invasive alternative to conventional neurosurgery.

How Deep Brain Stimulation Works

During deep brain stimulation Cadence-health-information surgery, a wire with four small electrodes is placed in the critical part of your brain that helps control movement. The electrode is attached to a small battery pack — similar to a pacemaker — that’s implanted in the wall of your chest. The wires that connect the electrode to the battery are placed under the skin for convenience and cosmetic reasons.

The placement of the electrode is critical, so you will likely be partially awake during the surgery to ensure that its placement doesn’t cause any negative side effects. Once the components are in place, the stimulator is activated. It works by interrupting the abnormal electrical impulses in your brain that cause your symptoms.

older man with parkinsons movement disorder reading newspaper treatment.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Laboratory

Since we can only diagnose Parkinson’s disease once the motor symptoms become evident despite that there exists a lengthy pre-motor symptom period, the urgency of early detection and finding disease-modifying treatments is critical. This need led to the establishment of the first molecular biology laboratory at Central DuPage Hospital funded by Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Office of Philanthropy and the Parkinson’s Disease Research Society. Headed by molecular biologist Jocelyn Nolt, Ph.D., this state-of-the-art laboratory is dedicated to finding biomarkers that will identify patients destined to show signs of Parkinson’s disease in the future. These biomarkers will also allow us to investigate a number of possible interventions that can be administered at the earliest possible time, perhaps before the first motor symptoms appear. These biomarkers may also be used as a way to measure disease progression and to gauge a patient’s response to therapy. It is our hope that this all may ultimately lead to a cure.

grandfather with grandson looking at tablet computer parkinsons disease.

The American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA)

CDH is the host for the APDA Information & Referral Center and the APDA National Young Onset Center. The APDA Centers work closely to provide patients with the education and support services and to raise public awareness of Parkinson’s disease and young onset Parkinson’s disease.

The APDA Information & Referral Center

The APDA Information and Referral Center at CDH provides information and referrals, educational programs and support services to those who are managing Parkinson’s disease to help them maintain their quality of life. The Center partners with the APDA Midwest Chapter to raise funds for Parkinson’s research and services, and to develop and implement programs for the Midwest Parkinson’s community. Services include:

  • Educational booklets such as the Parkinson’s Disease Handbook: a Guide for Patients and their Families and articles on topics such as exercise, nutrition and adapting to Parkinson’s disease.
  • Referrals to healthcare providers who specialize in movement disorders
  • Support groups for people with PD and their family members
  • Exercise classes and aquatic programs
  • Educational programs and seminars
  • Trained staff to answer callers’ questions and provide resources and support
  • Lending library of PD-related books and audiovisual materials
  • In-service education programs for institutions, organizations and agencies
  • Volunteer opportunities

For more information, call 630.933.4383 (toll free 800.223.9776) or email parkinsonscenter@cadencehealth.org.

The APDA National Young Onset Center

The APDA National Young Onset Center provides specialized education and support services nationwide to those who have been diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease, their family members, friends and healthcare providers. Services include:

  • Young onset hotline
  • Personalized, confidential Q&A (phone/email)
  • Young Parkinson’s e-newsletter and free publications
  • Young Onset Resource Guide with low-cost or no-cost resources
  • Uniquely Young Onset blog
  • Person to Person (Caregiver to Caregiver) mentor program
  • Live (and archived) webinars on PD-related subjects
  • Young onset support group development and referral
  • Young onset Parkinson's conferences and family retreats

For more information on young onset Parkinson’s, call 877.233.3801, email apda@youngparkinsons.org or visit the Center’s website*.

*By clicking on these websites, you are leaving the Northwestern Medicine website. These websites are independent resources. Northwestern Medicine does not operate or control the content of these websites.