Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is fundamentally used to diagnose illnesses ‘showing’ how the cells in the body are functioning. One of PET’s wide array of uses is in the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degenerative disorder that negatively affects the motor or movement pathways in the brain.
Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is not easy. Many of its early symptoms can be attributed to other age-related conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Likewise, there is no specific test for Parkinson’s disease, which makes early detection more difficult.
PET scans are primarily used to assess activity and function of brain regions of patients. With this ability, PET scan may be used to detect low levels of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s disease often leads to damage in nerve cells that are responsible for dopamine production. As the body’s dopamine levels decrease, the symptoms of Parkinson’s start presenting themselves, including loss of coordination of movement, tremors, stiff muscles and joints, postural instability, and lack of mobility.
PET measures the loss of dopamine neurons in patients. Since decline in dopamine usually indicates Parkinson’s disease, the physician may then start to suspect its presence, and may then proceed with additional tests to support his or her findings. Other tests for Parkinson’s disease that physicians may request include:
- Blood test – to rule out other conditions
- MRI or CT scan – to check for signs of brain tumor or stroke. In patients with PD, signs of brain tumor or stroke will not be present.
- Motor physiology tests – these tests are useful for confirming diagnosis and creating a benchmark against which to base treatment.
- Medical history
Once the physician narrows down the list of possible conditions to Parkinson’s disease, he or she will may then refer the patient to a neurologist who specializes in the illness. With early detection through PET imaging and additional tests, patients receive treatments receive therapy at the early stages.
Parkinson’s Disease and the PET Scan, WebMD.com
All About Parkinson’s Disease, MedicalNewsToday.com