Parkinson's diagnosis guide created for Canadian MDs

A specialist with the Ottawa Hospital has helped to develop the first ever national guidelines for diagnosing Parkinson's, an often-misdiagnosed disease with subtle symptoms.

Ottawa specialist hopes tool will help reduce incidents of misdiagnoses

Patients with symptoms of Parkinson's disease have often been misdiagnosed and told they're merely feeling the physical affects of the aging process. A new guideline developed for Canadian doctors by Parkinson's specialists hopes to reduce the number of misdiagnoses. (iStock)

A specialist with the Ottawa Hospital has helped to develop the first ever national guidelines for diagnosing Parkinson's, an often-misdiagnosed disease with subtle symptoms.

Accurately diagnosing the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system is confusing for some physicians because many of the symptoms — such as tremors or a general slowing down — can be brushed off as gradual physical wear-and-tear from old age, said Dr. David Grimes, director of Ottawa Hospital's Parkinson's Disease and Movements Disorders Clinic. 

"It's not like having a stroke, where something dramatic happens all of a sudden, and so it's one of those conditions where symptoms creep into the picture and go on for many months, or sometimes years," Grimes said. "They're seeing their family doctor, and they're saying their sore shoulder is from this, or the hand's not moving because they have just a little bit of Arthritis, and so it can take quite a while before they're able to come up with the right diagnosis."

In a bid to help patients get the timely treatment and therapies they need, Grimes worked with other specialists for five years to create a tool for doctors across Canada that would help them more accurately diagnose Parkinson's patients in the early stages, before the disease progresses.

Paul Wing and Nick Kaethler count themselves among those who feel they may have lost time as far as being able to manage the disease due to delayed diagnosis.

'You're just getting old'

Wing, whose doctor told him he was likely suffering from anxiety, didn't find out he actually had Parkinson's for eight months.

"It's really disconcerting. You're thinking, do I have AHLS, do I have MS, am I depressed? Is it cancer? It could be anything," Wing said. "It's hard to fight the good fight. It's hard when you don't have an enemy to fight."

Kaethler said he was told by his doctor, "You're just getting old. Live with it."

It took Kaethler five years to discover his enemy was Parkinson's.

"When I found out I had Parkinson's, a weight lifted off me," Kaethler said.

Finally having a name for his mystery condition as well as a strategy to deal with it was a relief, he said.

More than 100,000 people in Canada are estimated to have Parkinson's — the second most common degenerative disease behind Alzheimer's.

Patients like Wing and Kaethler hope the new diagnostic guidelines will make sure future patients won't have to go through the same frustrations they did.

With files from CBC's Ashley Burke