One of the peculiarities of Parkinson’s Disease is that there is no definitive test for it. To be sure, you get a battery of tests on the NHS, but they (blood tests and an “ordinary” MRI scan) are all to check for alternative diagnoses, not to see if you actually do have Parkinson’s. There is a scan which makes use of a radioactive chemical called Ioflupane (123I), or DaTSCAN – this makes dopamine transmitters visible to a gamma camera, and so should allow levels of dopamine to be registered. However, it is not a conclusive test and is often considered too expensive. When I asked my consultant about it, he was quite dismissive (whether because it was unlikely to work in my case or because of the cost, I am not sure).
Only yesterday, I came across an article that suggested that many cases of Parkinson’s were misdiagnosed. It seems to have been news in 2006. Which is quite a long time ago; the implication in the article is that GPs (family doctors) lacked experience with Parkinson’s and that a specialist should make the diagnosis (they do this by knowing what to look for – it’s quite vague but experience, it seems, helps a lot).
Anyway. Back to the matter referred to in the title. A research institute in Canada has a 7 Tesla MRI machine – exceptionally strong for a medical design (standard medical MRIs are around 1.5 Tesla) – which allows them to get a particularly high-definition scan of the brain. Apparently, it is possible to see the difference between a Parkinsonian brain and a normal one using this equipment.
Read about the Robarts Research Institute (University of Western Ontario) and their MRI scanner here:
No doubt cost would preclude the instantaneous roll-out of machines like this to every neurology department in the UK (or any other country), but hopefully at some point such diagnostic tools could be available and would help to prevent misdiagnosis and, as noted in the article, aid early diagnosis (although how they will know who to test and when is another matter entirely).