How to Distinguish Parkinson's Disease From Parkinson's Plus Syndromes

Written by laura latzko
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Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that causes people to have problems with balance and movement and develop tremors in their arms, legs and face. Parkinson's plus syndromes have similar symptoms as Parkinson's disease but often progress faster than Parkinson's disease, according to Dr. Carlos Singer, Director of the Center for Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders at the University of Miami. Parkinson's plus syndromes often are more difficult to treat than Parkinson's disease because they do not respond to anti-Parkinson's medications, according to Dr. Singer. There are symptoms and tests that distinguish Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's plus syndromes.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Mgnetic resonance imaging scan
  • Computerised tomography scan

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    Distinguishing Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's Plus Syndromes

  1. 1

    Be ready for symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, which will signal that you have a form of Parkinson's plus syndromes called dementia with lewy bodies. Symptoms of this disorder that are similar to Parkinson's disease include tremors, stiffness in your muscles, slowed movements and/or speech problems. These symptoms are more moderate for Parkinson's plus syndromes than they are for Parkinson's disease, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. You may also develop symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease, including memory and critical thinking problems.

  2. 2

    Look for symptoms that distinguish a form of Parkinson's plus syndromes called progressive supranuclear palsy from Parkinson's disease, such as uncontrolled eye movements, blurred vision, depression, apathy and/or forgetfulness. Symptoms of this condition that are similar to Parkinson's disease include a lack of balance and coordination when walking, problems swallowing and/or an inability to control emotions. Some of these symptoms, such as problems walking, will be the first to appear if you have progressive supranuclear palsy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

  3. 3

    Be prepared for symptoms, such as constipation, low blood pressure, fainting spells and/or blurred vision, which can signal a form of Parkinson's plus syndromes called multiple system atrophy. These symptoms often appear with Parkinson's disease-type symptoms, such as slowed movements, problems with posture, stiff muscles and/or sexual impotence, and progress over nine to 10 years, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke .

  4. 4

    Look for symptoms, such as muscle jerks, apraxia, slowed speech patterns and/or memory loss and dementia, that are common to a form of Parkinson's plus syndromes called corticobasal degeneration but not to Parkinson's disease. You may also experience symptoms that are comparable to those of Parkinson's disease patients, such as tremors, akinesia, limb dysphagia and/or slowed movements.

  5. 5

    Go to a doctor's office to get a physical examination and neurological exam, which are used to diagnose patients with Parkinson's disease or Parkinson's plus syndromes. During a neurological exam, a physician will ask you questions about your mental status and examine your motor skill and cranial nerve functions, reflexes, sensory system and coordination to determine which neurological disorder you have.

  6. 6

    Get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerised tomography (CT) scan. Sometimes imaging tests reveal differences in brain structures, which can indicate whether a patient has a form of Parkinson's plus syndromes or Parkinson's disease, according to and Dr. Singer.

Tips and warnings

  • Since drugs used for Parkinson's disease, such as I-dopa, are often ineffective in treating Parkinson's plus syndromes, doctors often treat symptoms of Parkinson's plus syndromes, such as low blood pressure and constipation.
  • People who are between 50 and 60 years old, are male and/or have a family history of Parkinson's plus syndromes or Parkinson's disease have an increased risk of developing forms of Parkinson's plus syndromes.

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