Parkinsonism

Parkinsonism is a shorthand description for body movements that have become slow, small, stiff, shaky, and unsteady. Most cases of Parkinsonism appear and progress in the fifth to eighth decade of life and are caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Additionally, some Parkinsonisms – or Parkinson-plus syndromes, as they are also called – are the result of strokes, medication side effects, or another neurological condition such as normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Four of the better-known Parkinson-plus diseases – multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, and diffuse Lewy body disease – together account for about one-quarter as many people as have PD.

While they can superficially resemble each other, particularly in the early stages of the diseases, each of these conditions has a different pathology. Different types of brain cells are affected by accumulation of different disordered cell constituents, and the disease course and presumably causal factors differ.

While there are no reliable tests to distinguish one form of Parkinsonism from another, there are combinations of features that usually point to one rather than another. Identifying the nature of Parkinsonism and the specific cause is the first step in forming a plan of care.

The UT Southwestern movement disorders team has a vast amount of experience in diagnosing and treating these kinds of conditions, and that expertise makes UT Southwestern a referral center for cases throughout the region.

Although there is currently no cure for these neurodegenerations, researchers are making advances toward understanding the diseases, and are testing possible treatments.

Why Choose UT Southwestern?

One of the key benefits of choosing UT Southwestern’s movement disorder team is our doctors’ experience in evaluating and treating Parkinsonisms, Parkinson’s disease, and other related disorders. We have established clinical programs that provide patients with access to the latest treatment options and information about medications to manage symptoms, plus access to other services as needed.

Additionally, our movement disorders team is actively involved in assessing treatment options for Parkinsonisms. We also provide access to research and clinical trials.

Types of Parkinsonism

The four most common Parkinson-plus diseases are:

  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA), sometimes called Shy Drager syndrome, affects autonomic and cerebellar circuits in addition to motor circuits. As a result, coordination can be more impaired, blood pressure regulation becomes disrupted, and control of the bladder and other "housekeeping" bodily functions declines.
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) affects walking and balance as an early feature, and eye movements and blinking slow down. Speech and swallowing functions progressively become impaired.
  • Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) has a remarkable degree of asymmetry because a group of cells on one side of the brain tends to be particularly affected. The other side of the body (unrelated to whether the person is right handed or left handed) tends to become progressively clumsy and stiff. The person may feel like one hand or arm no longer feels or behaves as though under the person's control. Language capabilities (for example the ability to select the word to express oneself) can deteriorate if the dominant side of the brain is the more affected.
  • Diffuse Lewy body disease (DLB) commonly causes tremor of one or more limbs at rest and slow shuffling motions; in addition, it results in a decline in mental acuity. When the visual parts of the brain are affected, hallucinations are likely.

Symptoms of Parkinsonism

Parkinsonism typically progresses more rapidly than Parkinson’s disease and has additional symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Tremor
  • Extreme slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Postural instability
  • Reduced coordination and dexterity
  • Change in speech (soft voice or mumbling)
  • Rigidity

Initial signs indicating that the diagnosis may be Parkinsonism and not Parkinson’s disease include early and severe dementia, falling, and difficulty with voluntary eye movements.

Our Services

We use a customized process to diagnosis and evaluate your symptoms. Our evaluation includes a tilt table test, blood tests, sweat test, MRI, and more.

While there is no cure for Parkinsonism, we offer several treatment options to help relieve your symptoms.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a Parkinsonism specialist at UT Southwestern’s facilities in Dallas or to learn more about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.