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DaTscan for Parkinson's: What Does it Mean?

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of ioflupane iodine-123 injection or DaTscan, a contrast agent to be used with single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) for detecting dopamine transporters (DaT) in suspected parkinsonian syndromes. 

What is DaT scan and what does it mean for you?  PDF posed your recent questions to our Director of Research Programs, James Beck, Ph.D.

Q: What is DaTscan?
Dr. Beck: DaTscan is an imaging technology that uses small amounts of a radioactive drug to help determine how much dopamine is available in a person's brain.  A machine similar to but smaller than an MRI machine, called a single photon emission computed tomography or SPECT scanner, measures the amount and location of the drug in the brain.

Q: Can DaTscan diagnose Parkinson's?
Dr. Beck: DaTscans cannot diagnose Parkinson's disease.  These scans are used to help a doctor confirm a diagnosis.  DaTscan has been used in Europe for over 10 years, where more than 300,000 have undergone the procedure.  The results of a DaTscan can be used to help rule out other diseases that may have similar symptoms, like essential tremor, especially for individuals early in the course of their disease.  However, there are several other diseases, multiple system atrophy (MSA) or progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which can also produce a loss of dopamine in the brain.  A DaTscan cannot differentiate between those diseases and Parkinson's.

Q: What is the role of the DaTscan for people living with Parkinson’s?
Dr. Beck: Currently, there is no objective test for Parkinson's disease.  While the specificity and sensitivity of DaTscans are not 100 percent, the test can help doctors to confirm or refute their suspected diagnosis.  DaTscans will therefore be helpful in people whose symptoms present an inconclusive or confusing diagnosis. 

Q: Are there risks associated with DaTscan?
Dr. Beck:  Possible adverse reactions such as headache, nausea, vertigo, dry mouth, and mild to moderate dizziness were reported, hypersensitivity reaction and injection site pain have been reported.  Among the individuals who have undergone the DaTscan in Europe, no significant side-effects have been reported.

Q: I have Parkinson's / I am experiencing symptoms of Parkinson's. Should I get a DaTscan?
Dr. Beck: Likely no.  Individuals who respond well to Parkinson's medication therapy and who have been diagnosed for many years will likely have an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.  A DaTscan may be useful for those whose diagnosis is clinically uncertain or who have failed to respond well to common Parkinson's medication therapy.  Every case of Parkinson's disease is different, so it is important to discuss it with your doctor.

Q: How can I get a DaTscan?
Dr. Beck: PDF recommends speaking with your doctor to see if a DaTscan is right for you.  Those interested in learning more can visit 

Q:Is the DaTscan test covered by insurance, Medicare and Medicaid?
Dr. Beck:  DaTscan will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid.  Insurers are likely to cover Datscan but insurers vary, so please contact your insurer for more information.

Learn More:
How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?  Check out our Diagnosis page to find out. 




Source Date: Jan 20 2011