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Types of Parkinson's and parkinsonism

Types of Parkinson's and parkinsonism

Last updated: Jan 2015

Parkinsonism is the umbrella term given to a group of conditions that feature Parkinson’s-type symptoms: tremor, stiffness of muscles and slowness of movement (bradykinesia).

About 85% of people with Parkinsonism have Parkinson’s (sometimes called idiopathic Parkinson’s), which is the most common form. 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 other, rarer conditions. Click on the headings below for a brief description of each condition and links to further information. 

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Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD)

Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD) CBD is a rare type of Parkinsonism that can affect mental processes, personality and behaviour, as well as causing Parkinson’s-type symptoms. It tends to affect one side of the body more than the other and can cause an ‘alien limb’ syndrome, in which the person’s arms or legs may seem to move independently. CBD has some similarities with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). 

More information and support is available from the Frontotemporal Dementia Support Group – www.ftdsg.org.uk, or the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP-Europe) Association – www.pspeur.org

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Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)

DLB has features of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. Because it shares certain symptoms with dementia (such as memory loss and varying alertness and attention) it is often confused with Alzheimer’s. People with DLB often develop Parkinson’s-type symptoms such as tremor, slow movement and stiffness, and are at risk of falls.

At present there is no cure or treatment for this progressive condition.

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Drug-induced Parkinsonism 

A small number of people develop Parkinsonism after taking certain medications. People with Parkinson’s may also find their symptoms get worse after they use these medicines. This is known as drug-induced Parkinsonism. 

The medicines involved are generally those that block the action of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is gradually lost in the brains of people with Parkinson’s. They include: Neuroleptic or antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric problems Prochlorperazine (Stemetil) used to treat dizziness and nausea Metoclopromide (Maxolon) used to treat nausea and indigestion The symptoms of drug-induced Parkinsonism tend to stay the same. Only in rare cases do they progress as the symptoms of Parkinson’s do. Most people will recover within months, and often within hours or days, of stopping the drug that caused the dopamine block.

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Essential Tremor (ET)

ET is a common neurological condition (an illness of the nervous system), which results in fast, rhythmic trembling in the hands, head, legs, trunk or voice. It is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s. The cause is unknown, but may be genetic, as ET can run in families. While people with Parkinson’s experience tremors 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 the person is writing.

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Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)

MSA is a progressive neurological illness 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 another progressive disorder of the nervous system. It mainly affects balance, but also harms mobility, vision, speech and the ability to swallow. Many people with PSP experience difficulty in moving their eyes when trying to look up or down.

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Vascular (Arteriosclerotic) Parkinsonism

Several small strokes in the part of the brain that receives information about position and movement can cause Parkinson’s-type symptoms, such as rigidity and slowness, walking with short, shuffling steps, speech and memory or thinking problems. Vascular (Arteriosclerotic) Parkinsonism can be difficult to distinguish from Parkinson’s. However, stroke symptoms tend to appear suddenly and do not progress, whereas the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear gradually and get worse over time. Vascular parkinsonism usually affects the legs more than the upper part of the body.

Doctors believe that high blood pressure and diabetes are the most likely causes, but stroke and heart disease may also play a part.

More information and support is available from the Stroke Association or the Stroke Alliance for Europe.

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