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My primary care physician diagnosed me with Parkinson's disease (PD) Now What?

CFMC Question #2

My primary care physician diagnosed me with Parkinson's disease (PD). She suggested I see a neurologist. A friend recommended I find a Movement Disorder Specialist (MDS). What difference will it make?

This is a question many newly diagnosed or even those living with PD for many years ask. The answer is not straightforward and depends on the individual situation. Below is a brief explanation of the difference between the two.

Training is the main difference that you need to consider. Neurology is the branch of medicine concerned with studying and treating disorders of the nervous system. This system is a complex, sophisticated system that regulates and coordinates body activities. A general neurologist treats disorders controlled by the nervous system; this could be epilepsy, strokes, or many other conditions. The MDS has subspecialty training in treating those conditions related to movement, whether they are too slow or too fast. Parkinson's disease falls in the too-slow category and is the most common.

After medical school, a physician spends three years completing a residency in Neurology. Then, they would have a two-year Fellowship focusing on movement disorders. During this training, they would treat many people living with PD. This additional training allows a variety of perspectives, especially in challenging clinical situations. They would have more experience with medications used to treat PD and the side effects they may cause and a better understanding of the non-motor symptoms that are also difficult to control. Another consideration would be their up-to-date knowledge of the research and its future. Many MDSs work with other healthcare professionals who have specialized knowledge in this area. This can include physical, occupational, speech therapists, nurses, and social workers.

Many excellent general neurologists treat PD and can give quality care even though they see other neurological conditions. The critical consideration is whether you like and feel comfortable with your physician and do they LISTEN!

No matter who you decide to see for your care, it is imperative that you take responsibility for learning all you can regarding this disorder and advocate for yourself. Healthcare changes daily, and we must rely more on ourselves to receive proper care. Gone are the days when one doctor was the expert on any disease and the appropriate care for each.

For the most reliable information, you can trust national associations such as the American Parkinson Disease Association, Parkinson Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, and Davis Phinney Foundation. Any of these will have the most up-to-date information on treatment and research.

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