A neurological disorder known to cause tremors, Parkinson’s disease is typically diagnosed following a thorough medical history examination, as well as a physical and neurological exam. Specific symptoms provide specialists with clues regarding patient prognosis, but there are still no objective tests available to make a definitive diagnosis.
Aware of key biological markers, researchers recently studied tears as a possible diagnostic test. A team led by Mark Lew from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California presented their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting.
How Tears May Help Diagnose Parkinson’s
Being the first study of its kind, researchers have stated that tears may be an inexpensive, reliable and noninvasive biomarker of Parkinson’s disease. The team of researchers studied tears based on the proteins they contain. Stimulated by nerves, the tear glands excrete proteins in healthy human tears.
Since Parkinson’s is known to impact nerves outside of the brain, the researchers hypothesized that changes in nerve function would be apparent based on protein levels in tears.
For this study, 55 people with Parkinson’s provided tear samples. These samples were compared to samples taken from 27 individuals who did not have Parkinson’s but were the same gender and age. Interested in four unique proteins, the research team found key differences in regards to the protein, alpha-synuclein.
The levels of this protein were reduced in people with Parkinson’s. Those living with this disease had an average of 423 pictograms of alpha-synuclein per milligram, compared to 704 pictograms per milligram in people without Parkinson’s. They also found that levels of another form of this protein, oligomeric alpha-synuclein was significantly higher in the tears of Parkinson’s patients.
This form implicates nerve damage in Parkinson’s. The average level of oligomeric alpha-synuclein was 1.45 nanograms per milligram in people with Parkinson’s, compared to just 0.27 nanograms per milligram in those without the disease.
The Value of an Early Diagnosis When Treating Parkinson’s
A chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s affects more than 10 million people around the globe. As mentioned, there are no conclusive tests available to diagnosis Parkinson’s, often leading to delays in treatment.
Unfortunately, this disease is often missed or misdiagnosed based on various overlapping symptoms. Many of the early warning signs of Parkinson’s are also displayed among patients with other diseases. This is why many patients are not diagnosed until an advanced stage when motor symptoms become more apparent.
Since these symptoms develop due to significant neurophysiological damage, a late diagnosis can hinder possible treatment methods. This means that delaying the progression of one’s symptoms may already be out of reach. In comparison, clinical trials have shown that early treatment can decrease symptoms. Intervening early may even slow the progression of the disease itself.
Not only would this reduce the associated health costs, but early intervention is key when aiming to improve one’s quality of life. This is also why we recommend the BrainTest® app. The sooner you identify possible early warning signs of cognitive decline, the sooner a more definitive diagnosis can be made. Results should be discussed with your physician and changes can be tracked over time within the app.
What Are Some of the Warning Signs of Parkinson’s?
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, it is important that you understand the early warning signs of Parkinson’s. No single symptom means that you have this disease. However, if you display more than one of these signs, it is recommended that you speak with your physician.
Tremors — Although shaking is normal after exercise or during stressful situations, shaking at rest may be a sign of Parkinson’s. You may also notice that you are much more stiff than you were in the past.
Smaller handwriting — Have you noticed that your handwriting has changed? Are written letters smaller and more crowded together? This is known as micrographia.
Difficulty sleeping — Do you trash around in bed? Intense, sudden movements while sleeping may indicate Parkinson’s.
Loss of smell — Can you not smell foods as well as you once did? If you struggle to smell foods such as pickles or bananas, it is best to speak to your physician. You may also notice changes in your voice.
Facial changes — Have your loved ones noticed that you look very serious or even depressed when you are not? This is what is known as facial masking.
You may also find more information about Parkinson’s here.