PET Scan and Parkinson Disease

One of the most fundamental uses of Positron Emission Tomograpghy (PET) technology is its use in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that produces negative effects to the motor or movement pathways in the brain. It is a condition that affects up to 1.5 million Americans. Although Parkinson’s disease is not a fatal disease, it does reduce an individual’s quality of life.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that produces negative effects to the motor or movement pathways in the brain. A condition that affects up to 1.5 million Americans, Parkinson’s disease results in the reduction of nerve cells in the brain cells that are responsible for dopamine production. As the amount of dopamine decreases in a Parkinson’s disease patient, this condition leads to: imbalance; a loss in coordination of movement that often appears as a tremor; stiff muscles and joints; and difficulty in moving.

Parkinson’s disease originates in the brain cells that are responsible for transmitting impulses that causes movement into the neurologic pathways. Although Parkinson’s disease currently has no cure, it is a condition that if detected early can lead to effective treatment. However, it is a difficult disease to detect, as many of the brain’s movement pathways would have already been compromised by the time Parkinson’s disease symptoms appear. Often, Parkinson’s disease will remain undetected and untreated for a significant period of time.

The symptoms of Parkinson's disease result from a deterioration of the metabolic pathways in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra. These cells are responsible for dopamine (a chemical that transfers messages in the brain) production, which if deficient disrupts the brain’s ability to direct or control movements in a normal fashion.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

There is no specific test for Parkinson's disease, however knowing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease can help to diagnose the condition early enough for it to be managed.

Some symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:

  • Occasional, rhythmic tremors in the fingers, hands, arms, legs, jaw, or face
  • Stiffness in the legs, neck, or torso
  • Slowness of movement
  • Trouble with balance and coordination
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Feeling depressed, overly tired, and irritable.
  • Extreme constipation
PET and Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

One of the most important uses of Positron Emission Tomography is in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that is caused by destruction of the brain cells responsible for dopamine production. Dopamine, a chemical that transfers messages in the brain, deficiency results in an inability of the brain to control or direct movements normally.

As neurological disorders are often difficult to diagnose, it is important for physicians to use an imaging tool that examines the metabolic structure of the Parkinson’s disease patient rather than the anatomical structure. Parkinson’s disease leads to the deterioration of the metabolic pathways in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra.

PET scan + Parkinson’s disease = Diagnosis. Although this may seem like a bold statement, PET imaging makes it possible for a physician to detect changes in the dopaminergic systems. PET imaging for Parkinson’s disease involves the administration of the radioactive imaging drug, 18F-DOPA, into the patient’s body. Although it is reasonable for individuals to be concerned about the radiation used in PET imaging, this procedure has been shown to be highly safe. Consequently, patients should free themselves of any worry about the radiation content of this procedure.

PET imaging in Parkinson’s disease patients involve the administration of the imaging drug, 18F-DOPA. 18F-DOPA is used because it is chemically similar to dopamine. Consequently, once the imaging drug is fully absorbed in the patient’s body, a physician is able to examine changes in the dopaminergic system. In Parkinson’s disease, the body’s use of dopamine is reduced as Parkinson’s disease results in the deterioration of the metabolic pathways in the substantia nigra, the area of the brain that is responsible for dopamine production. PET scans produce images of the body’s dopaminergic and can identify characteristic patterns of reduced uptake of 18F-DOPA, a body activity that begins to appear in the early course of the disease. A highly accurate diagnostic imaging tool, PET images often indicate whether a condition in the patient is Parkinson’s disease or some other type of movement disorder.

Often a PET scan is performed for patients who are exhibiting symptoms such as tremor and gait disturbance that suggest Parkinson’s disease. The early detection of Parkinson’s disease through PET imaging helps a patient receive the necessary therapy at its earliest possible stage.



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