New brain scan helps doctors confirm presence of Parkinson's

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POSTED: Saturday, April 28, 2012 - 1:00pm

UPDATED: Saturday, April 28, 2012 - 1:04pm

Barbara Smith, 43, starting feeling symptoms of Parkinson's Disease seven years ago, and they have intensified since then.

“The shaking in my right hand, complete right arm, the tension, shaking in my legs, and just not being able to sleep, always tense, very uncomfortable," she said.

A new type of brain scan at Cleveland Clinic Florida will confirm whether Barbara has the most common form of Parkinson’s Disease.

“The purpose of the scan is to have a way of measuring cell loss or dopamine loss in a person that you suspect has Parkinson’s,” explained Dr. Nestor Galvez, the chairman of neurology at the clinic.

In the morning, Barbara was injected with a radioactive dye that will attach to a specific protein in brain cells that produce dopamine. T

hat’s the main chemical that is absent in someone who has Parkinson’s.

Three hours after her injection, she returned to the hospital for the DAT scan.

The dye zeroes in on the cells that produce dopamine and cause them to light up.

That helps Galvez clearly see areas where there is cell loss.

What triggers the process that leads to Parkinson’s?

Galvez says that in most cases, like Michael J. Fox's, it’s unknown.

“In the case of Muhammad Ali, we can trace it back and say well what the trigger was - the constant fighting and constant hammering to the head,” he said.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, and balance problems.

That’s how many patients are diagnosed.

“With the best of hands you can be certain up to 75 percent, which means 20 to 25 percent of the time there’s a misdiagnosis there,” Galvez said.

He has seen several patients who were previously told they had Parkinson’s.

Their scans showed they did not.

Smith, who just married, wants definitive information on the cause of her tremors.

“This test will give me some kind of answer finally, whether it is or isn’t. I need to know,” she said. 

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