No tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson's disease. Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a detailed physical examination.

Your GP will talk to you about the problems you're experiencing and may ask you to perform some simple mental or physical tasks, such as moving or walking around, to help with the diagnosis.

In the early stages, your GP may find it difficult to say whether you definitely have the condition because symptoms are usually mild.

Referral to a specialist

If your GP suspects Parkinson's disease, you'll be referred to a specialist. This will usually be:

  • a neurologist – a specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system
  • a geriatrician – a specialist in problems affecting elderly people

If your GP thinks you may be in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, you should see a specialist within six weeks. If they think you may be in the later stages, you should see a specialist within two weeks.

The specialist will most likely ask you to perform a number of physical exercises so they can assess whether you have any problems with movement.

A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is likely if you have at least two of the three following symptoms:

  • shaking or tremor in a part of your body that usually only occurs at rest
  • slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • muscle stiffness (rigidity)

If your symptoms improve after taking a medication called levodopa, it's more likely you have Parkinson's disease.

Special brain scans, such as a single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan, may also be carried out in some cases to try to rule out other causes of your symptoms.

Receiving the diagnosis

Being told you have Parkinson's disease can be emotionally distressing, and the news can often be difficult to take in.

This means it's important that you have the support of your family and a care team who will be able to help you come to terms with the diagnosis.

You may find it useful to contact Parkinson's UK, the Parkinson's support and research charity.

They can be contacted by:

  • free helpline on 0808 800 0303 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm, and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays)
  • email: hello@parkinsons.org.uk

Parkinson's UK brings people with Parkinson's, their carers and families together through a network of local groups, as well as online resources and a confidential helpline.

The Parkinson's UK website provides information and support on every aspect of living with Parkinson's.

Page last reviewed: 09/06/2016

Next review due: 31/05/2019