TEXAS (KIAH) – Nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). More than 52,000 are Texans. Parkinson’s is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

There is a non-invasive imaging test to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease and even dementia.  

The dopamine transporter scan, or Datscan, is the first imaging agent approved by the FDA for use in capturing images of the brain. DaTscan™ is a radioactive agent that is injected into the bloodstream and flows to the brain, where it can be easily seen with special imaging technology called a SPECT camera.

According to Houston Methodist Hospital, the imaging agent’s activity in a normal scan will appear as mirrored comma or crescent shapes if sufficient dopamine transporters (DaT) are intact or not affected. In an abnormal scan, the activity will appear in circular or oval shapes on one or both sides.

“This imaging agent is a step in the right direction for the timely and accurate diagnosis of patients with parkinsonian syndromes, including Parkinson’s disease,” said Toby Yaltho, M.D., fellowship-trained movement disorder neurologist at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. “Without these detailed images of the brain, we rely solely on clinical examinations, which can be inconclusive, especially in the early stages of the disease.”

The DaTscan is being used in several area hospitals and imaging locations.