Parkinson’s disease may be confirmed in some patients through a series of skin biopsies. Here’s what you should know about patients with an initial Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Physicians may be able to confirm suspected Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions with a skin test.
According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, and many people go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed. This is because the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease mimic other conditions such as essential tremor or normal pressure hydrocephalus.
The Syn-One Test from CND Life Sciences has been available since 2019. Its goal is to assist doctors in confirming or ruling out the diagnosis of a family of neurodegenerative conditions known as synucleinopathies. The most well-known of these is Parkinson’s disease, but the category also includes dementia with Lewy bodies, multiple system atrophy, pure autonomic failure, and REM sleep behavior disorder, conditions that can be challenging to diagnose and difficult to distinguish from other neurological disorders.
The test takes about 15 minutes and involves three skin biopsies from the patient, each one about the size of a pencil eraser. Samples are taken from the upper back, lower thigh and lower leg above the ankle. The biopsies are evaluated in a lab for the presence or absence of phosphorylated alpha-synuclein, an abnormally folded alpha-synuclein, in the nerve fibers of the skin.
Norton Neuroscience Institute is one of about 50 health care organizations in the country using the test. Movement disorder specialists Justin T. Phillips, M.D., and Jason L. Crowell, M.D., have given the test to dozens of patients over the past year.
“Parkinson’s has been, and remains, a disease that needs to be diagnosed by a health care professional, but this is a secondary test that can aid in confirming or disproving the diagnosis,” Dr. Crowell said. “One advantage of this test is that it is more specific than the other tests currently available, so it is better able to distinguish Parkinson’s disease from other conditions that mimic Parkinson’s.”
“What we like about this test is that it’s quick for the patient and has many different applications,” Dr. Phillips said. “In some instances, we’ve even been able to determine the diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies as the cause of dementia.”
Parkinson’s disease often can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages due to mild symptoms and a gradual onset. Typically, the disease initially is diagnosed through symptoms and physical exam findings, which may include:
- Changes in movement, including slowness of movement or tremors (shaking) of an arm or leg
- Muscle stiffness
- Impaired balance
- Voice changes, including softness of speech
- Difficulty with memory and thought processes
- Trouble with swallowing
These symptoms are caused by destruction of certain cells in the brain, resulting in slowness and difficulty in controlling one’s movements.
How to treat Parkinson’s
Treatment for patients with Parkinson’s is directed at relieving symptoms, usually through medication or surgery. Other treatment approaches include general lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, support groups, occupational therapy and speech therapy.