Parkinsonism is a term that describes a collection of movement symptoms. Doctors group any condition that causes these symptoms under the umbrella of Parkinsonism. Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause of Parkinsonism.

Doctors use Parkinsonism to cover several conditions that share movement problems, such as slow movement, shaking or tremors, and stiff arms and legs.

There are two major groups of Parkinsonian disorders, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation: Primary Parkinsonism and secondary Parkinsonism.

Primary causes of Parkinsonism include Parkinson’s disease and atypical Parkinsonian disorders. Secondary causes of Parkinsonism include drug-induced and vascular Parkinsonism.

This article explains the similarities and differences between Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease, as well as the types and treatments.

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There are many disorders under the category of Parkinsonism. In the early stages of the disease, it can be challenging to determine whether someone has Parkinson’s disease or another syndrome with similar symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause of Parkinsonism, accounting for around 8 in 10 people with the condition. Atypical Parkinsonian disorders, also known as Parkinson’s plus syndrome, represent about 10–15% of people with a Parkinsonism diagnosis.

Atypical Parkinsonian disorders share the primary features of Parkinson’s disease, such as:

  • slow movements
  • balance problems
  • tremors

They also have additional characteristics, such as:

  • dementia
  • cognitive impairment
  • cranial nerve impairment

Atypical Parkinsonian disorders typically progress more rapidly than Parkinson’s disease and do not respond as effectively to levodopa therapy, one of the main medications to treat Parkinson’s disease.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Parkinson’s disease, visit our dedicated hub.

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Primary causes of Parkinsonism include the following:

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder involving progressive damage to the brain that worsens over several years. As the nerve cells in the brain weaken, a person may have problems with balance, limb stiffness, and tremors.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. A 2022 study indicated that 90,000 people aged 65 and older receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease each year in the United States.

Atypical Parkinsonian disorders

There are several conditions that cause Parkinsonism but are not Parkinson’s disease.

Atypical Parkinsonian disorders include:

  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): This is a progressive brain disorder that causes problems with balance, walking, and eye movements. It can lead to life threatening complications, such as trouble swallowing and pneumonia. PSP is the most common atypical Parkinsonism.
  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA): This is a rare nervous system condition that affects balance, movement, and the body’s involuntary functions, such as blood pressure and digestion.
  • Corticobasal degeneration (CBD): This is a rare condition that causes problems with movement, speech, memory, and swallowing that worsen over time.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB): This causes a progressive decrease in mental abilities, affecting brain regions involved in movement, memory, and thinking. It is the second most common dementia following Alzheimer’s disease.

Secondary causes of Parkinsonism include the following:

Drug-induced Parkinsonism

Some people develop Parkinsonism after having drugs that affect dopamine levels in the brain, including:

Parkinsonism symptoms usually reduce over time when a person stops taking the drugs. Drug-induced Parkinsonism is the second most common cause of Parkinsonism after Parkinson’s disease.

Vascular Parkinsonism

This is a condition that can occur after cerebrovascular diseases such as a stroke. Symptoms include an unsteady gait.

Vascular Parkinsonism progresses more slowly than other Parkinsonism types. People with vascular Parkinsonism typically experience Parkinsonism on both sides of the lower body and unsteadiness while walking. They generally do not have tremors when their muscles relax, known as resting tremors.

Read more about Parkinsonism here.

The main symptoms of Parkinsonism include:

  • slowed movements
  • tremors
  • stiffness

A person with MSA may additionally have problems with body functions they cannot control and experience symptoms such as low blood pressure, urinary and bowel dysfunction, or sexual dysfunction.

People with PSP may experience a loss of balance and stiffness but also often cannot focus their eyes or look downward.

CBD causes progressive difficulty moving on one or both sides of the body but also involves the loss of cognitive functions, such as thinking and remembering.

DLB may cause symptoms in addition to slowed movement and tremors, such as visual hallucinations, cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer’s disease, and poor regulation of body functions.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms can vary for each person. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, symptoms can be mild, and people may not notice them.

Symptoms include:

  • tremor
  • stiffness (rigidity)
  • slowed movement (bradykinesia)
  • impaired balance
  • decreased ability to swing arms when walking
  • difficulty speaking or slurring speech (dysarthria)
  • repetitive muscle cramping (dystonia)

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and maintain quality of life.

Treatments for Parkinson’s disease include:

A healthcare professional may also recommend lifestyle changes, physical therapy, and working with a speech-language pathologist.


Treatment for Parkinsonism varies depending on the condition requiring treatment. There is no cure for Parkinsonism, but treatments aim to reduce symptoms and maintain body functions.

Overall treatments include:

  • Parkinson’s disease medications
  • physical therapy
  • medications for blood pressure
  • speech therapy
  • Alzheimer’s disease medications

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disorder. It is impossible to predict the disease’s course for each person.

Most people with Parkinson’s disease have the same life expectancy as people without it, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

For Parkinsonism, the outlook depends on the cause and type.

Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause of Parkinsonism.

Parkinson’s disease and other Parkinsonian disorders share symptoms, such as balance problems, slow movement, and tremors. However, atypical Parkinsonism disorders may have additional symptoms, such as dementia or cognitive impairment.

People with Parkinson’s disease often have a standard lifespan, but people with other Parkinsonian disorders may have a reduced life expectancy.