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Quick Facts


(Secondary Parkinsonism; Atypical Parkinsonism)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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Parkinson disease is a disease that affects the part of your brain that controls your movements. You get tremors (shaking), stiff muscles, slow movements, trouble with your balance, and difficulty thinking (dementia).

What is parkinsonism?

In Parkinsonism, you have symptoms of Parkinson disease, but they're caused by a different brain disorder or by certain drugs or poisons.

  • At first, you have shaking (tremors) of your fingers and hands when your muscles are relaxed and at rest

  • You may also have stiff muscles, slow movements, and problems with balance and walking

  • Doctors treat the cause of parkinsonism when possible and use medicines and physical therapy

What causes parkinsonism?

Causes of parkinsonism include:

  • Swelling of your brain caused by a viral infection (encephalitis)

  • Alzheimer disease, Lewy body dementia, and other disorders in which your brain deteriorates over time

  • Wilson disease (a disease that causes a buildup of copper in your body)

  • Head injuries, especially if they happen over and over, such as in boxing or football

  • Certain medicines, such as some medicine for schizophrenia and some anti-nausea medicine

  • Poisons, such as carbon monoxide and wood alcohol

What are the symptoms of parkinsonism?

Parkinsonism symptoms include:

  • Your hand shakes while your muscles are relaxed (this is a key symptom, since most other hand tremors happen when hand muscles are in use)

  • Stiff muscles

  • Slow movements

  • Problems balancing and walking

You may have symptoms that aren't part of Parkinson disease, such as:

  • Memory loss early on (in Parkinson disease memory loss occurs later)

  • Low blood pressure, difficulty swallowing, constipation, and urinary problems

  • Unusual eye movements

  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there) early on (in Parkinson disease hallucinations occur later)

  • Problems using or understanding language

How can doctors tell if I have parkinsonism?

Doctors will ask you about things that can cause parkinsonism, such as:

  • Use of certain medicines

  • Exposure to poisons

  • Family history of brain disorders

  • Repeated head injuries

Typically doctors will do tests such as:

Sometimes doctors just have you try medicine for Parkinson disease. If that medicine works, then you likely have Parkinson disease and not parkinsonism.

How do doctors treat parkinsonism?

If there's another health problem causing your parkinsonism, doctors will treat it if possible.

Doctors may also:

  • Have you stay active, eat healthy food, and use assistive devices (such as a cane or walker) to help with daily living

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