Early Parkinson’s patients waiting too long to seek medical evaluation

The time between diagnosis and the beginning of symptomatic treatment is critical in the effort to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD). A paper published in npg Parkinson’s Disease, a Nature Partner journalnotes too many early PD patients wait too long before seeking medical attention, or start taking symptomatic medications before they are required, thereby dramatically shrinking the pool of candidates for clinical trials.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement. Symptoms include tremors, stiffness, and slow and small movements. The pace of progression varies among patients, making the months following diagnosis crucial to researchers studying the disease’s progression.

Robert Hauser, MD

“The critical time of about one year from when the patient can be diagnosed with early PD based on mild classic motor features until they truly require symptomatic therapy can be considered the Golden Year,” said lead author Robert A. Hauser, MD, director of the Parkinson’s Disease & Movement Disorder Center, based at the USF Health Neuroscience Institute. “It is during this early, untreated phase, that progression of clinical symptoms reflects the progression of the underlying disease.”

Dr. Hauser says that in order to determine whether or not a potential disease slowing therapy is actually working, clinical researchers must be able to compare the therapy to a placebo without interference from symptomatic treatment. Otherwise, they won’t know if the therapy is slowing the disease’s progression or if they are just seeing the effects of symptomatic treatment.

This requires patients to seek assessment soon after they notice the onset of tremor or slow movement. In addition, physicians should consider referring patients to clinical trials soon after diagnosis and delay prescribing symptomatic medication until it’s needed. If a patient waits until symptomatic treatment is necessary, the opportunity to participate in these crucial clinical trials is lost.