Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disease affecting balance, movement and agility, affects approximately 1 percent of the population over 60 years of age. Although recent years have brought increased awareness of this disorder, the lack of a test to detect this condition can lead to misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and related syndromes. In many cases, especially early in the course of the disease, an important step in diagnosis is to distinguish Parkinson’s syndrome (PS) from essential tremor (ET).
Patients with ET may have some of the same symptoms as those with PS, but have a much better prognosis and generally undergo different types of medical therapy than PS patients. Sometimes, it can take years of clinical follow-up to distinguish PS symptoms from ET symptoms.
However, a radiopharmaceutical called DaTscan™ was approved by the FDA to be used in nuclear medicine SPECT imaging to help distinguish Parkinsonian syndromes (PS) from essential tremor (ET). This agent detects the amount or lack of neurons in the brain that act as dopamine transporters.
The value of DaTscan is often to either increase the physician’s confidence in the diagnosis, especially early in the course of the disease, or to give the physician more cause to investigate other possible causes of the patient’s symptoms.