Parkinson’s syndrome, also known as Parkinsonism syndrome and atypical Parkinsonism syndrome, refers to any condition that involves the types of movement problems observed in Parkinson’s disease. This includes movement problems such as bradykinesia (slowed movement), tremors, and stiffness of the limbs.
In this article, we will provide insight on Parkinson’s syndrome vs. Parkinson’s disease, diagnosis and treatment, and future methods for early, accurate Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
In a recent poll of individuals with Parkinson’s disease, more than one in four (26%) participants reported having been misdiagnosed. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is fundamental to receiving appropriate and effective treatment; however, many conditions can mimic Parkinson’s disease.
Here is a quick breakdown of Parkinson’s syndrome vs. Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is most commonly known for affecting function and movement, though it also affects cognition, particularly as the disease progresses. Parkinson’s disease primarily impacts dopaminergic, or dopamine-producing, neurons in a specific area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter that transmits signals between neurons and plays a crucial role in movement and motor control.
The lack of dopamine makes it challenging for the brain to coordinate muscle movements and can also contribute to mood and cognitive issues later in the disease course. Patients with Parkinson’s disease also lose nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, a chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system responsible for controlling a wide range of functions in the body, such as blood pressure and heart rate.
As mentioned above, Parkinson’s syndrome is a general term that refers to any condition that causes the types of movement problems observed in Parkinson’s disease. In other words, while Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause of Parkinson’s syndrome, many other conditions can cause Parkinson’s syndrome. These include:
Other causes include:
Currently, there is no single test for Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson’s syndrome—no brain scan or lab test (e.g. blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and urine) can provide a definitive diagnosis. Instead, doctors diagnose Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome “clinically,” meaning a diagnosis is dependent on medical history, answers to certain questions, a physical examination, and the presence of specific physical symptoms.
Typically, the process for obtaining a diagnosis follows these general steps:
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatments for Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome are currently very symptom-oriented. Doctors typically prescribe a combination of multiple effective medications in accordance with symptoms present in a given patient. Medications prescribed to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms include:
There is a bit of overlap in treatment for Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome. Dopaminergic therapy, the most common treatment used for Parkinson’s disease, can be effective in treating some causes of Parkinson’s syndrome, but not all. For example, while individuals with PSP may benefit from dopaminergic treatment (often in a higher dose than patients with Parkinson’s disease), individuals with MSA often do not benefit from this treatment approach.
Other common treatments for both Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome include lifestyle interventions (e.g. diet and exercise plans), physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. Some patients with Parkinson’s disease may benefit from a neurosurgical technique called deep brain stimulation (DBS).
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