Diagnosing Parkinson's disease 

No tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson's disease. Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and the results of some simple exercises.

Your GP will talk to you about the problems you are experiencing and they 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 will be referred to a specialist. This will usually be either a neurologist (specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system) or 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 be likely to 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:

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

If your symptoms rapidly improve after taking a medication called levodopa, it is highly likely you have Parkinson’s disease. However, most specialists no longer perform this type of 'diagnostic challenge'.

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. Therefore, at this time, it is important that you have the support of your family and 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.

Their contact details are:

Parkinson's UK brings people with Parkinson's, their carers and families together through their network of local groups, online resources and confidential helpline. The Parkinson's UK website also provides information and support on every aspect of living with Parkinson's.

Page last reviewed: 02/04/2014

Next review due: 02/04/2016