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Community Views: Most Common Misdiagnoses for Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is not as easy to diagnose as you might expect. All too often, doctors see one symptom – usually tremor – and make a diagnosis without looking further.

Misdiagnosis is so common with this disease that we wanted to start a conversation and hear about your experiences. We asked members of our ParkinsonsDisease.net Facebook community: “Were you ever misdiagnosed with another condition before your PD diagnosis?”

Nearly 90 community members shared their experiences, naming more than 12 misdiagnoses. Here are the 4 most common answers.

Common misdiagnosis: Multiple sclerosis

One of the most common answers to the question was multiple sclerosis (MS). Both diagnoses have an effect on the central nervous system. These diagnoses also frequently cause muscle spasms, balance changes, tremor, and impaired memory. However, these are two separate diagnoses.

One difference is that MS is often diagnosed when someone is in their 20s, while most people receive a PD diagnosis in their 60s. Also, MS is an autoimmune disease that over time causes nerve damage. Parkinson’s affects the brain. The brain starts producing less and less dopamine, which is responsible for controlling movement.

“Yes, with MS – which I was worried about for years, but right now I do not know which one is worse. However, my meds are helping a lot. My new saying is ‘It is what it is,’ aka just live on. My neurologist says that I have stage one mild Parkinson's disease.”

“My husband was diagnosed with MS back in 1993 when he had a mini stroke. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014.”

Common misdiagnosis: Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord are damaged. Muscle contractions are a common physical symptom. In contrast, PD has a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

“My husband started tremors 14 years ago but was only diagnosed last year. The doctor had previously said it was peripheral neuropathy.”

“My old neurologist for 11 years said peripheral neuropathy! VA then said 50/50 Parkinson’s and sent me to the CU Movement Disorder Center. My new neurologist watched me walk along with other tests and said ‘Parkinson’s.’”

Common misdiagnosis: Essential tremor

Essential tremor is a physical condition that causes shaking. However, it does not have other physical effects, nor does it affect a person in other ways. Parkinson’s is a much more far-reaching disease.

“Yes, essential tremor.”

“Essential tremor.”

Common misdiagnosis: Depression

Depression occurs in half of people living with PD. This can obviously have a huge impact on overall health. However, to reduce a Parkinson’s diagnosis to this one symptom is a failure to see the entire picture.

“They said I was depressed. And went as far as sending me to a psychologist. I do not remember all of the other things they checked for, but after 8 years and lots of testing, I was diagnosed with PD in 2008.”

“They said I was depressed....lol.”

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences. It is our hope that this story reaches people who are still searching for answers regarding a diagnosis. Receiving a correct diagnosis brings validation and can greatly help someone’s quality of life.

Were you or a loved one misdiagnosed with another condition before your Parkinson's diagnosis? Share in our comments below.

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