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Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute

UT Southwestern Medical Center offers personalized treatment of Parkinsonism, including access to the latest research and clinical trials.

Our Movement Disorders team has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating Parkinsonism, making us a referral center for cases throughout the region.

Experience and Expertise in Diagnosis and Care

Parkinsonism is a shorthand description for body movements that have become slow, small, stiff, shaky, and unsteady. Most cases of Parkinsonism develop after age 50 and are caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD). Some Parkinsonisms are the result of strokes, medication side effects, or another neurological condition such as normal pressure hydrocephalus.

UT Southwestern’s Movement Disorders team has extensive experience in evaluating and treating Parkinsonism, PD, and other related disorders. Our clinical programs provide patients with access to the latest treatment options and information about medications to manage symptoms, as well as other services as needed.

Types of Parkinsonism

Below are the four most common Parkinsonisms (sometimes called Parkinson-plus syndromes). While they can resemble each other in their early stages, each condition affects different brain cells, so the progression and underlying mechanisms of each illness differ.

Multiple system atrophy (MSA): This group of disorders has differing features but shares a similar loss of neurons in multiple brain pathways. All are disorders of abnormal accumulation of a brain protein called alpha-synuclein. Subtypes include:

  • Parkinsonism with autonomic failure manifested by lightheadedness when standing and bladder control difficulty (Shy-Drager syndrome)
  • Parkinsonism with balance impairment (olivopontocerebellar atrophy)
  • Rapidly progressive Parkinsonism without a favorable response to levodopa (striatonigral degeneration)

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): PSP is a rapidly progressive form of Parkinsonism in which balance dysfunction occurs early, resulting in frequent falls. Patients with PSP have abnormal eye movements, markedly reduced blinking, and poor balance. Speech and swallowing functions progressively become impaired. This disorder is characterized by the abnormal deposition of the brain protein tau.

Corticobasal degeneration (CBD): CBD is a rare form of Parkinsonism characterized by the development of pronounced dysfunction of one arm in early stages. Patients lose awareness of where this arm is located in space, have difficulty performing voluntary movements with this limb, and develop a shaking movement of the limb called myoclonus. In addition, they develop difficulty executing planned motor tasks (apraxia), which affects both arms. Neuronal loss is much worse on one side of the brain, the side opposite the more severely affected arm.

Diffuse Lewy body disease (DLB): DLB involves widespread deposits of alpha-synuclein throughout the brain, including the brainstem, basal ganglia, and cerebral cortex. This syndrome has symptoms such as Parkinsonism, significant cognitive dysfunction early on, fluctuating mental status, and visual hallucinations.

Symptoms of Parkinsonism

Parkinsonism typically progresses more rapidly than Parkinson’s disease and shares many symptoms with Parkinson’s, such as:

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

Symptoms that help differentiate Parkinsonism from Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Difficulty with voluntary eye movements
  • Early and severe dementia
  • Falling

Our Services

Identifying the specific type of Parkinsonism is the first step in forming a plan of care. While there are no reliable tests to distinguish one form of Parkinsonism from another, we use a customized process to evaluate symptoms and diagnose the condition. Learn more about our evaluations.

While there is no cure for Parkinsonism, we offer several treatment options to help relieve symptoms, as well as access to clinical research and the latest understanding of how these diseases develop. Learn more about our treatments.

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