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A DATscan uses a small amount of radioactivity to mark dopamine transporters (hence the “DAT” part of the name) which can then be tracked as they move around the brain. Since the dopamine transporters collect and drop dopamine as they go, the point of the DATscan is to measure the rate of re-use during the scan.
On the day of the scan, patients are asked to take two tablets at the start of the procedure. The scan is carried out three to five hours later, and lasts around three quarters of an hour. The radiologists may advise limited contact with children in the immediate aftermath of the scan as a precautionary measure while the radioactive marker loses its radioactivity.
Dopamine is a complex chemical that enables nerve cells to transmit messages from one to the next (also described as a neurotransmitter). Without enough of it, the body slows down.
Some of the commonly prescribed drugs for Parkinson’s help the body to stock up on a building block (precursor) of dopamine called levadopa or L-dopa. Using that, the nervous system can make enough neurotransmitter to get by. Examples include Co-beneldopa or the proprietary formulation Madopar. As the dose is used up, so the effect wears off: this can occur quite rapidly in more advanced cases.
Another group of drugs used to treat Parkinson’s is referred to as dopamine agonists. These work like dopamine in the brain. Examples include ropinirole, Neupro and Mirapex.
There is a group of drugs that can slow down the chemicals which break down dopamine, leaving more for the body to use. Examples include ragaliline and selegiline.