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What is Parkinsonism?

Parkinsonism is the generic name given to a group of conditions that feature the main characteristics of Parkinson’s: tremor, rigidity of muscles, mobility problems and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).

About 85% of people with parkinsonism have the most common form, Parkinson’s disease (also known as PD or idiopathic Parkinson’s disease). If you have this type, then this website is for you: it aims to provide all the information you need to manage life with Parkinson’s.

The other 15% of people with parkinsonism have different, much rarer conditions. These are outside the remit of this website, but brief descriptions of each one are provided below, together with links to any sources of further information.


Corticobasal degeneration (CD)

CD is a rare type of Parkinsonism that can affect mental processes, personality and behaviour, as well as causing Parkinsonism symptoms. It tends to be asymmetrical and causes an ‘alien limb’ phenomenon, where the person’s arms or legs can seem to move without control, as if with a mind of its own. CD has some similarities with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP).

More information and support is available from the Pick’s Disease Support Group – www.pdsg.org.uk, or the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP-Europe) Association – www.pspeur.org


Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

DLB shares features with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. Because of its similarities with the symptoms of dementia (such as memory loss and variations in alertness and attention) it is often confused with Alzheimer’s. But about 75% of people with DLB also develop Parkinsonism symptoms, in particular being susceptible to falls.

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Drug-induced Parkinsonism

Some people develop Parkinsonism after they have taken certain medications and people with Parkinson’s may also find their symptoms worsen when they are treated with these medications. This is known as drug-induced Parkinsonism.

The medications involved are generally those that block the action of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is depleted in the brains of people with Parkinson's. These include antipsychotic/neuroleptic medication used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric problems, prochlorperazine (Stemetil) used to treat dizziness and nausea, and metoclopromide (Maxolon) used to treat nausea and indigestion.


Essential tremor (ET)

ET is a common neurological condition, often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s. Its cause is unknown, but can run in families, resulting in fast, rhythmic trembling in the hands, head, legs, trunk or voice. Whilst the tremors experienced by people with Parkinson’s are apparent during rest periods, ET is an ‘action’ tremor - it is more pronounced when the affected part of the body is being used, for example in the hands when writing.

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Multiple system atrophy (MSA)

MSA is a progressive neurological disorder that causes problems with movement, balance and the automatic functions of the body, such as bladder control, sweating and blood pressure.

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Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)

PSP is also a progressive neurological disorder. It predominantly affects balance, but also impairs mobility, vision, speech and the ability to swallow. A particular feature that many people with PSP experience is difficulty in moving the eyes when trying to look up or down.

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Vascular (arteriosclerotic) Parkinsonism

A form of ‘atypical Parkinsonism’ in which Parkinson-type symptoms are produced by one or more small strokes, rather than by a gradual loss of nerve cells.

Several small strokes in the Corpus Striatum in the brain (the part that receives information about position and movement) can cause Parkinsonism symptoms, such as Rigidity and slowness, walking with short, shuffling steps and speech problems. This is known as vascular (arteriosclerotic) Parkinsonism and can be difficult to distinguish from Parkinson’s. However, Stroke symptoms tend to appear suddenly and do not progress, whereas those of Parkinson’s are gradual in appearance and worsen over time.

More information and support on stroke is available from the Stroke Association – www.stroke.org.uk, or the Stroke Alliance for Europe – www.safestroke.org.