DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My husband was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but later it was determined he has atypical parkinsonism. What is the difference? What treatments work best for his condition?
ANSWER: Your husband’s situation is not uncommon for people who have atypical parkinsonism. When symptoms of parkinsonism begin, the condition may at first be diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. But over time, it becomes clear that a different disorder is really the underlying cause of the symptoms. Treatment for atypical parkinsonism depends on several factors, including the specific diagnosis, symptoms, and how quickly the disease progresses.
To understand atypical parkinsonism, it is helpful to know a bit about parkinsonism in general. First, parkinsonism is not a disease itself. It is a name used to describe a group of symptoms, which include: tremor when a limb is at rest, slowed movement, rigid muscles and impaired balance and posture. When someone has at least two out of these four symptoms, they are said to have parkinsonism.
Parkinsonism has many causes. Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause, but it is not the only one. Parkinsonism can be a result of certain medications. A type of progressive dementia, called Lewy body dementia, which includes a decline in both mental and physical abilities, may lead to parkinsonism.
Parkinsonism also can be caused by three other rare movement disorders: multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration. When a neurologist suspects one of these three disorders as the source of parkinsonism, but an exact diagnosis has not yet been made, it is often labeled atypical parkinsonism.