Eye test could diagnose Parkinson's disease

Looks for tremors behind the eyes

RICHMOND, VA (Ivanhoe Newswire) - In its early stages Parkinson's disease is not easy to diagnose.

But one test that's been in development for a decade could change how we look at the disease.

There are tell-tale signs of Parkinson's disease that surface years after it first takes hold.

"It starts a decade, maybe one, two, three before you start having motor symptoms," explains Dr. Mark S. Baron, MD, the Director of the Southeast Veterans Affairs Parkinson's Disease Research. Doctor Mark Baron believes his eye test is the key to early diagnosis.

"Everyone with Parkinson's disease has a tremor behind the eyes," said Dr. Baron.

While wearing a device patients follow a dot on the screen.

Doctors then analyze the data looking for the tremors.

"Can we actually predict whether they are going to get it from the eye test and the answer is yes," explained Dr. Baron.

It can also help reverse a misdiagnosis.

Jimmy Sale was told he had Parkinson's four years ago but in just four minutes everything changed.

"We hooked him up to this system and immediately the test said A is not Parkinson's and B most of the tremors are coming from the drugs," explained George Gitchel, MS, Heath Science Research Specialist at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.

"It was a big relief," said Jimmy Sale.

A promising test that could lead to better treatment options earlier in the disease.

Doctor Baron would like to see the eye test become a screening tool used during regular doctor visits.

He says along with Parkinson's, the eye test could also help detect other movement disorders.

Research Summary

BACKGROUND: Parkinson's disease (PD) is a nervous system disorder that results in the degradation of motor skills in both men and women. PD, like other motor system diseases, is caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine allows nerve cells to successfully transmit messages that control muscle movement. Devoid of the chemical, the brain scrambles commands, subsequently impairing muscular functions. Parkinson's is a chronic, progressive disease and varies in severity. Though PD typically affects adults over the age of 50, it has been documented to afflict young adults and in rare cases, children. Researchers have not identified a cause for the loss of dopamine-producing cells and there are no standard blood or laboratory tests to conclusively identify the disease. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine).

SYMPTOMS: Shaking and tremors are the most common symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, though it may take decades for them to develop. Other PD symptoms include difficulty speaking, swallowing, chewing and sleeping. Some patients have experienced emotional changes, skin irritation, urinary issues and constipation.

TREATMENT: There is no known cure for Parkinson's disease. Patients diagnosed with PD are often prescribed medications to offset the effects of dopamine loss and improve muscle control. The most common drugs prescribed are L-Dopa, Sinemet, Atamet, Mirapex, Requip, Parlodel, Eldepryl, Deprenyl, Azilect, Amantadine and Entacapone. In addition to movement-related medications, doctors may prescribe pharmaceuticals to treat autonomic dysfunction, impaired cognitive processes, sleeping disorders and to alleviate pain. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

NEW DIAGNOSTIC TOOL: VA Medical Center and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have identified a new method to screen patients for Parkinson's disease. The study suggests that patients with PD cannot sustain focus when asked to gaze upon a target on a computer monitor. Researchers observed an ocular tremor among PD patients regardless of whether they have received treatment or not. Only two control participants exhibited the tremor. One of the two patients who experienced the tremor experienced and reported Parkinson's symptoms within two years. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs)

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