Neurological Disorders Parkinson's Disease Guide Parkinson's Disease Guide Signs & Symptoms Causes & Risk Factors Diagnosis Treatment Living With Caregiving How Parkinson’s Disease Is Diagnosed By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 08, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, is an award-winning physician-scientist and clinical development specialist. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Phynart Studio / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Self-Checks/At-Home Testing Tests and Scales Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease How It All Fits Together Next in Parkinson's Disease Guide How Parkinson’s Disease Is Treated Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be complicated because there isn’t a specific blood test or screening test that can determine whether or not you have it. Instead, Parkinson’s is diagnosed clinically, which means a doctor will examine you, review your symptoms and medical history, and diagnose accordingly. Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that can make movement difficult. If your general practitioner (GP) thinks you might have Parkinson’s, they may refer you to a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders for a diagnosis. It can be challenging to catch Parkinson’s in the early stages because the symptoms may be too mild to notice or meet the diagnostic criteria. Also, early Parkinson’s symptoms are often mistaken for typical signs of aging. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are also similar to those of other health conditions, which may be misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s at first. Your doctor may suggest specific tests and scans to help eliminate other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Self-Checks/At-Home Testing There isn’t really a test you can do at home to diagnose Parkinson’s. However, you can make note of your symptoms and report them to your doctor. These are some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s you might notice: Tremors in your arms, legs, or head Slower movements and difficulty with daily tasks Hunched posture and poor balance Difficulty walking and shuffling steps Muscle stiffness and cramps Difficulty writing and smaller penmanship Softer, quicker, slurred, or monotonous speech Fatigue or a general sense of unease Difficulty chewing or swallowing Restless leg syndrome Loss of smell Depression or anxiety Chances are, your loved ones may notice some of these symptoms before you do. For instance, they may observe that your hands shake, your movements are kind of stiff, or you have trouble getting up from a chair. Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease Tests and Scales Diagnosing Parkinson’s can involve a detailed medical history, a physical and neurological examination, physical exercises, a review of your symptoms, and tests and scans. These are some of the steps you can expect. Medical History Your doctor will probably require a detailed medical history covering factors like your previous illnesses, medication, and family history to help determine whether you’re at risk for Parkinson’s. Age, for instance, is an important risk factor because Parkinson’s typically sets in after the age of 60, although early-onset Parkinson’s can sometimes begin before 50. Family history can play a role because some cases of early-onset Parkinson’s are inherited. While both men and women can get Parkinson’s, it is 50% more common in men than women. Knowing what medicines you take—as well as those you have taken in the past—is also important because some medicines can cause side effects that mimic the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Your doctor will also need to know what other medical conditions you have been diagnosed with because certain other conditions can also cause movement-related difficulties that are collectively referred to as “parkinsonism.” Physical and Neurological Examination Your doctor will conduct a physical and neurological examination. This can involve observing your behavior, movements, and mental state and conducting tests or asking you to perform certain exercises. These are some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s your doctor can determine visually: Fewer spontaneous movements or hand gesturesReduced frequency of blinkingTremors in your hands while they are at rest, often only in one handHunched posture or forward lean while walkingStiff movements These are some of the exercises your doctor may ask you to do to evaluate your movements, balance, and coordination: Opening and closing your fistTapping your fingers, toes, and heelsHolding your arms out in front of youMoving your finger from one point to anotherRotating your wrists or anklesStanding from a chairWalking freelyMaintaining balance despite a gentle bump or pullDoing a series of rapid movements Deep Brain Stimulation Benefits for Parkinson's Can Last at Least 15 Years Symptom Checklist Clinicians use a checklist developed by the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease. The checklist covers several psychological, physical, and movement-related symptoms. Your doctor will probably ask you if you have experienced each of those symptoms recently and, if so, how severe they were. They may ask you questions like the following: Have you needed help or been slow with personal hygiene tasks like brushing your teeth, bathing, getting dressed, combing your hair, or shaving? Have you had discomfort in your body like aches, pains, cramps, or tingling? Have you had trouble eating your food or using utensils? Have you had problems following conversations, recalling things, thinking clearly, paying attention, or finding your way around your house? This checklist reflects the most current understanding of the disease. Previously, clinicians used a checklist by the United Kingdom Parkinson’s Disease Society Brain Bank. Imaging and Lab Tests Your doctor may order some imaging tests and laboratory tests. Imaging tests can include computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Laboratory tests can include blood tests and urine tests. While these tests and scans will not help diagnose Parkinson’s disease, they can help rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest that you get a dopamine transporter scan (DaTscan). This scan requires a single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scanner. It involves an injection of a small amount of a radioactive drug so that your doctor can study the dopamine systems in your brain (Parkinson's is a disease characterized by low dopamine levels). While a DaTscan cannot conclusively prove that you have Parkinson’s, it can help confirm your doctor’s diagnosis and eliminate other conditions. Learn to Manage Claustrophobia During CT Scans and MRIs Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease Based on your physical and neurological exam and your responses to the checklist of symptoms, your doctor may be able to determine whether you have the following symptoms. Having two or more of the following symptoms can make Parkinson’s a possibility: Bradykinesia (slower movements): This can happen because the rate at which your brain sends instructions to other parts of your body slows down. Rigidity: Your muscles may become stiff, which can be painful and make your movements rigid and limited. Tremors: Your hands, feet, or head may shake while you’re at rest. Impaired movement and balance: Parkinson’s disease can cause you to develop a hunch or forward lean while you walk and/or walk at a rapid, shuffling gait. It can also make it difficult for you to rise from a chair or maintain balance while standing or walking. Your doctor will factor in your medical history, test results, and all your other symptoms while arriving at a diagnosis. Sometimes, it can be hard to diagnose Parkinson’s immediately, especially if you are in the early stages. In that case, your doctor might require you to come for follow-up visits where you will have to do similar tests and exercises. How It All Fits Together Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be tricky. The process relies heavily on your doctor’s judgment. In addition, the causes and risk factors of Parkinson’s are not entirely clear yet, which contributes to the difficulty in diagnosing this condition. However, there have been efforts to try and detect this disease earlier. For instance, clinicians have started focusing more on prodromal symptoms, which are early symptoms that appear before movement-related difficulties begin. These symptoms include: Loss of smell, which can sometimes occur years before other symptoms Chronic constipation, without any other explanation Rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder, which causes sleep disturbances Mood disorders, like depression and anxiety If your symptoms indicate Parkinson’s disease, your doctor may start you on dopamine therapy to help treat it. Showing a significant improvement with high doses of dopamine can help confirm that you do, indeed, have Parkinson’s disease. How to Increase Your Dopamine Levels Naturally Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Cleveland Clinic. Parkinson’s disease: causes, symptoms, stages, treatment, support. Health Library: Diseases & Conditions. International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society. MDS unified Parkinson's disease rating scale. Johns Hopkins Medicine. How Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed. Health: Treatments, Tests, and Therapies. National Institute on Aging. Parkinson’s Disease. Health Information. Stanford Medicine. Parkinson’s disease exam. Stanford Medicine 25. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.