Parkinson's Midsiagnosis

Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder caused by progressive deterioration of the nervous system that impairs the ability to control movements of the body. Doctors often fail to timely diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages or misdiagnose Parkinson’s for another condition. Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can delay medical intervention and treatment and have major consequences. On this page, we will explain when you may have a medical malpractice case based on a doctor’s failure to properly diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder involving the deterioration of cells in the brain and central nervous system that leads to tremors, shaking, and impaired body control that gradually gets worse. In its later stages, Parkinson’s can leave a person unable to walk or talk. Parkinson’s disease is strongly associated with old age. Over 90% of Parkinson’s disease cases develop after age 55.

Parkinson’s disease impacts millions of lives across the U.S. and the world. Around 1 million people in the U.S. are currently living with Parkinson’s disease. Each year about 60,000 people in the U.S. get diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, 4% of them are diagnosed before age 50. Men are twice as likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s DiseaseParkinson’s disease is caused by the decay and death of special nerve cells (neurons) in the area of the brain that controls body movement. These neurons are normally responsible for producing and transmitting a chemical called dopamine in the brain. As these neurons decay and die they stop producing dopamine which leads to the impaired movements that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s.

Why these neurons decay and die in people with Parkinson’s is not fully understood. Research has shown that some cases of Parkinson’s disease can be linked to hereditary gene mutations. However, most cases of Parkinson’s appear to be entirely random with no connection to family history or genetic inheritance. Most experts now believe that Parkinson’s is triggered by a combination of genetic predisposition combined with environmental factors such as exposure to certain chemicals linked to Parkinson’s disease. For instance, exposure to the commercial herbicide Paraquat has recently been linked to high rates of Parkinson’s disease in farmworkers.

Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease

When Parkinson’s disease is in its earliest stages it can be very difficult to accurately diagnose. The initial signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s are often non-distinct and easily overlooked in routine medical exams. Moreover, in contrast to many other diseases, there is no single diagnostic imaging tool or lab test that can be used to provide a definitive diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In light of these difficulties, it is hardly surprising that a recent study found that 1 in 4 people with Parkinson’s disease were initially misdiagnosed.

Since there is no medical test that can confirm the disorder, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is based on medical history, symptoms, and how the person responds to the medication. This can be a prolonged process that requires diligent, attentive medical care.

There are a number of disorders and medical conditions that can cause symptoms very similar to Parkinson’s disease and lead to diagnosis problems. These conditions include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Supranuclear Palsy
  • Lou Gherig Disease
  • Shy-Drager Syndrome
  • Wilson’s Disease

These conditions are often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease or people with Parkinson’s are misdiagnosed with one of these conditions instead. Since medical imaging or testing is not able to differentiate between the conditions, doctors often have to rule things out based on how the patient responds to medication.

When Can You Sue You Doctor for Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease?

In order to sue a doctor for medical malpractice based on misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, you will need to show 2 things: (1) the doctor’s efforts to diagnose your condition were negligent and fell below the applicable standard of medical care; and (2) you suffered significant harm as a direct result of the doctor’s negligent misdiagnosis.

(1) Breaching the Standard of Care

To sue a doctor for misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, you need to prove that the doctor’s diagnostic error was the result of medical negligence that fell below the applicable standard of medical care. In other types of misdiagnosis cases, breaching the standard of care typically involves failing to order the proper medical testing or misinterpreting the results of that testing or imaging (e.g., failing to identify a cancerous tumor on radiology images). With Parkinson’s disease, however, there are no diagnostics tests or images. The condition is diagnosed based on an examination, medical history, and response to treatment. This can make establishing this element of a malpractice claim tricky. As with any type of malpractice case, proving breach of the medical standard of care requires an opinion from a qualified expert witness.

(2) Injury & Causation

The second element of a malpractice case for misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease requires proof that the doctor’s negligent diagnostic error was the proximate cause of some actual harm or injury. In other words, you will need to show how a timely, accurate diagnosis would have made a difference in your case. With Parkinson’s disease, diagnostics errors can result in delayed treatment that arguably allows the condition to progress more rapidly.

FAQs: Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease
How often is Parkinson’s Disease misdiagnosed?

According to recent data and studies, Parkinson’s disease is misdiagnosed about 30% of the time. This high rate of diagnostic error is primarily due to the lack of any reliable testing or imaging.

What can be misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease?

There are numerous medical disorders and conditions with similar symptoms that can often lead to diagnostic errors related to Parkinson’s disease. These include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Supranuclear Palsy
  • Lou Gherig Disease
  • Shy-Drager Syndrome
  • Wilson’s Disease
What can mimic Parkinson's disease?

There are around 30 other diseases and health disorders with symptoms that can mimic the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Some of the more common conditions that can mimic Parkinson’s include: Multiple Sclerosis, Supranuclear Palsy, and Lou Gherig Disease.

How many people are misdiagnosed with Parkinson's disease?

Based on recent surveys suggesting that 30% of Parkinson’s cases are misdiagnosed, an estimate 20,000 people each year experience a diagnostic error related to their Parkinson’s disease.

How do you rule out Parkinson's disease?

There is no medical imaging or lab test that can definitively diagnose or rule out Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is usually ruled out as diagnosis based on how the patient responds to medication treatment.

Can severe stress mimic Parkinson's?

No. Parkinson’s disease is caused by decay of neurons inside the brain and not by severe stress.

Contact Miller & Zois about Parkinson’s Disease Misdiagnosis

If you have a potential malpractice case based on a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, call our attorneys today at 800-553-8082.

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