The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) follows the UK Brain Bank Criteria, which demands bradykinesia and one additional symptom, i.e. rigidity, resting tremor or postural instability. The latter is not a useful sign for the early diagnosis of PD, because it does not appear before Hoehn and Yahr stage 3. Early symptoms of PD which precede the onset of motor symptoms are hyposmia, REM sleep behavioral disorder, constipation, and depression. In addition, an increasing number of patients whose PD is related to a genetic defect are being described. Thus, genetic testing may eventually develop into a tool to identify at-risk patients. The clinical diagnosis of PD can be supported by levodopa or apomorphine tests. Imaging studies such as cranial CT or MRI are helpful to distinguish idiopathic PD from atypical or secondary PD. SPECT and PET methods are valuable to distinguish PD tremor from essential tremor if this is clinically not possible. Using all of these methods, we may soon be able to make a premotor diagnosis of PD, which will raise the question whether early treatment is possible and ethically and clinically advisable.
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