How Do You Know if You Have Parkinson's?

In order to really know if you have Parkinson’s you need to be diagnosed. The process of diagnosis usually begins with you contacting your family doctor who will usually refer you to a neurologist or geriatrician.

The neurologist will take the history of the development of the symptoms from you and conduct a neurological exam.

You might also be recommended to take some lab tests that will help determine if you have a different condition that may be similar to Parkinson’s, but really is not.

For example, there are tremors that are not related to Parkinson’s.

There is still no one specific test that helps in the diagnosis of Parkinson's. Diagnosis comes from being examined by your neurologist and by ruling out other possible causes for your symptoms.

What made my mom decide to go to the doctor originally was the tremor she was experiencing in her right hand. Obviously, she knew this was not "normal" so she went to get it checked out.

Unfortunately at the time (about 17 years ago), the doctor dismissed it because he said she was too young to have Parkinson’s (she was 48).

Nowadays though, Early-Onset Parkinson’s is well known to doctors so she probably would have been diagnosed much sooner (it took 3 years for her to finally be diagnosed).

Though she did not realize it at the time, there were other additional symptoms that she was experiencing before her diagnosis that were the first signs of Parkinson’s.

She did not know that these were linked to her having the disease until after she started learning about the signs and symptoms, after her diagnosis.

Other than her obvious hand tremor, she said she knew there was something different in her walk. She noticed that her feet seemed to hit the floor differently and that there was more wear and tear on the heel of her right shoe.

She also noticed dryness in her eyes which she later found out was due to the fact that people with Parkinson’s don’t blink as often. Another thing that happened was that her sense of smell was not as good as it normally was.

My mom always had a keen sense of smell so this was more obvious to her. She later read an article in Reader’s Digest that said that the loss of sense of smell is one of the first signs that appears in people with Parkinson’s.

Finally, the last things she noticed were while she was at work. One was the fact that her handwriting was not round and fluid anymore, but rather “tight” or tense looking.

The other thing she noticed at work was as she calls it, her “scatter brain”. She would often find herself starting a project then putting it down and moving on to another before it was finished.

These symptoms experienced by my mom are all common to someone who is being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but there are others as well (check out the answer to Question #28: “What are the most common symptoms?” p. 33 of my Parkinson's book).

Remember that every person is different and so are the number and types of signs and symptoms that one would expect to see before diagnosis.

 What convinced my mom’s neurologist that she had the disease was when he asked her to walk and he noticed that her one arm didn’t swing like the other (it actually stopped swinging). This is also a sign that many people with Parkinson’s have.

It is important to keep in mind that there are several Parkinson’s “look- alikes” (see Question #16: "Are there different types of Parkinson’s?" p. 20).

In the end, it is the neurologist who will ultimately need to tell you or your loved one if you have Parkinson’s disease.