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Neuroimaging Helps Diagnosing Parkinson\'s Disease Before Any Symptoms Appear

A breakthrough study, which results have been presented in Lancet Neurology, demonstrated the ability of neuroimaging techniques to recognize upcoming neurological diseases before their major clinical manifestations are developed. As it was shown by the same research group in 2006, REM sleep disturbances serve as an early indicator of a developing neurodegenerative disease. In the resent study, it became possible to discern patients having REM sleep disturbances who are likely to suffer neurodegenerative disorders in the nearest couple years.

Diagnosing diseases before their symptoms appear remains one of the challenging tasks of modern medicine. It is crucial for neurodegenerative disorders which begin latently with no clinical manifestations observed at the early stages and are usually diagnosed after degenerative changes advance. The group of researchers of the Hospital Clínic – IDIBAPS, Spain, and their colleagues from the Innsbruck Medical University, Austria, proved it possible to recognize the disease before its clinical manifestations appear.

The 2006 study showed the connection between the sleep disturbances and upcoming disease as 45% of the studied patients over 60 years who suffered from sleep disturbances (nightmares) developed a neurodegenerative disease within 5 years.

In the new study, 43 new patients underwent neuroimaging tests and were followed-up for the next 2.5 years. Within the period of follow-up, neurodegenerative disorders appeared in 19% of the patients. Five of them got Parkinson's disease. In all these patients, the test results turned abnormal. On the contrary, patients with normal neuroimaging test results developed no disorders during the period of follow-up.

The neuroimaging technique helps identifying dysfunctions of dopamine which may precede Parkinson's disease development. The early diagnosing of the disease enables early treatment which may be more successful at initial stages.