7 Less Common Misdiagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease
Last updated: April 2023
Anyone with Parkinson’s disease can tell you that the road to diagnosis is anything but direct. Too often, it comes down to a bit of luck – as in, finding a doctor experienced enough to connect the symptoms straight away as Parkinson’s disease.
For most members of the ParkinsonsDisease.net community, it took several doctor visits – and several physicians – to reach the correct diagnosis. Prior to that, the wrong diagnoses were all over the map.
To learn more, we asked members of our ParkinsonsDisease.net Facebook community: “Were you ever misdiagnosed with another condition before your PD diagnosis?”
Almost 90 community members shared, naming many misdiagnoses. Here are the 7 less common answers.
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Pinched nerve
Pinched nerves do affect your body’s ability to send internal messages. This usually causes joint pain and can lead to a lack of limb or joint mobility. However, this does not align with most other PD symptoms.
“A pinched nerve in my neck.”
“My doctor said I had a pinched nerve and degenerative discs in my neck, which were causing my arm to basically not move. Then my driving foot started to not work. I grew tired of not getting answers, so went for an extensive stay at the Mayo Clinic and now have a great doctor at UCLA.”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Depression or anxiety
It is shocking how many times Parkinson’s is dismissed as nothing more than anxiety or depression. It is true that physical symptoms can sometimes result from mental conditions. However, reducing PD to a mental condition is usually the result of not enough testing or not taking enough time to talk to a patient.
“My husband was diagnosed with anxiety.”
“My husband was diagnosed with anxiety and low testosterone years before his diagnosis.”
“Yes... they said it was all in my head!”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Arthritis
Arthritis is a not unreasonable misdiagnosis. This condition also has symptoms of stiffness, limited joint movement, and joint pain. Because of this, the early stages of Parkinson’s can appear very similar to arthritis.
“Yes, arthritis in all my joints, diabetes, gout and—get this—'unknown.’”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: General aging
It can be hard to feel like you have been taken seriously when your doctor reviews your symptoms and calls it nothing more than aging. It is true that everyone’s body declines in strength and mobility as they get older, but Parkinson’s impacts someone’s physical and mental abilities in ways that are more pronounced than standard aging.
“My husband’s doctor just said it was aging, and that you have got to expect these things as you get older.”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Huntington's disease
Huntington’s disease causes brain cells to break down. Symptoms can include clumsiness, insomnia, lack of energy, and lack of physical control. Difficulty walking often comes with Huntington’s, which is why it could be a reasonable diagnosis for someone with Parkinson’s.
“My husband has now passed, but was misdiagnosed with Huntington’s disease.”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Thyroid issues
Thyroid issues affect muscle strength and can cause fatigue, muscle aches, stiffness, and joint pain. The early stages of Parkinson’s could look similar to thyroid problems. However, with time and as a patient learns more about his or her own symptoms, they are able to provide a fuller picture, which can lead to a clearer diagnosis.
“My husband’s endocrinologist adjusted his thyroid medicine and was so surprised when he did not feel any better.”
Parkinson's misdiagnosis: Ankylosing spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that causes stiffness in the spine and often leads to mobility issues. While these are similar to some symptoms of PD, Parkinson’s comes with a range of other symptoms. As more symptoms appear, it becomes a clearer path to the correct diagnosis.
“Ankylosing spondylitis. It has been a long time since I thought of that word. I am sure it is there, but that is what they attributed my tremors to. Nope. That said, it gave me 2 years to be ready, so I am thankful for that.”
We appreciate everyone who shared their stories. It is our hope that by providing this information, more people who are misdiagnosed can gain clarity and a correct diagnosis much sooner.
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