Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease & Movement Disorders

Accuracy and efficiency are our top priorities when diagnosing movement disorders. Whenever possible, our physicians coordinate testing in a one-day outpatient visit.

At the first appointment, our specialists administer thorough assessments of your:

  • Symptoms
  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Neurological exam
  • Imaging tests (as needed)
  • Genetic tests (as needed)
  • Lifestyle and behaviors
  • Family history of movement disorders

It can be difficult to pinpoint a diagnosis among the many types of movement disorders. For example, several disorders have symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease but may require different treatment.

Our team is proficient in the use of DaTscan imaging to help accurately diagnose movement disorders. DaTscan is a molecular imaging method that helps physicians understand how much neurodegeneration has occurred in the brain.

Following evaluation and testing, our physician team collectively reviews results and determines the diagnosis. In some cases, we may observe a patient’s response to medication to confirm the diagnosis.

Symptoms & Causes of Movement Disorders

Symptoms

Movement disorder symptoms vary by specific diagnosis and gradually increase. Some common indications for potential further examination may include recurrence of:

  • Abnormal movement
  • Abnormal posture
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Excessively slow walking
  • Frequent falls
  • Involuntary movement
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness
  • Tremor
  • Twitches
  • Lack of coordination

Causes

The underlying causes of movement disorders vary by diagnosis and sometimes remain unknown. Factors that may potentially influence the development of movement disorders include infections, inflammation, stroke, toxins, trauma, metabolic disorders, autoimmune diseases, genetic diseases and reactions to certain medications. It is believed that heredity and environmental triggers also play important roles in development of movement disorders.

Significant progress in research has been made to pinpoint exactly why these diseases and changes occur to discover effective treatments for the root causes of these diseases. Researchers at UChicago Medicine conduct rigorous clinical and laboratory investigations into common and rare movement disorders. We also closely monitor medical progress throughout the world to help benefit patients.

In Parkinson’s disease, production of a chemical in the brain called dopamine decreases due to the progressive loss of brain cells that produce it. These cells are lost mainly because of an abnormal accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein. Understanding what makes the alpha-synuclein protein accumulate in these brain cells is a major focus of PD research.

Movement Disorders, Parkinson's Disease, Deep Brain Stimulation: Expert Q&A

Dr. Tao Xie, a specialist in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and movement disorders, and neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Warnke, discuss the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s disease and DBS as a treatment option.

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