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What is the Difference Between Parkinsonism's and Parkinson's?

Parkinsonism, also called atypical Parkinson’s or Parkinson’s Plus, is the umbrella term used to describe a group of neurological problems. Parkinson’s represents only 10-15% of all diagnosed cases of parkinsonism. Can that get any more confusing?

Parkinson’s is caused mainly by the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. In contrast, the causes of Parkinsonism are numerous, ranging from the side effects of medications to metabolic disease, toxins, and neurological disease. For a clear diagnosis, it will often depend on how we respond to treatment.

Parkinsonism is considered a clinical syndrome in which a person may have some but not all Parkinson’s motor symptoms and other symptoms related to an additional condition or cause. These indications can range from low blood pressure to the inability to move one’s eyes up and down, to dementia.

There is no definitive test for Parkinson’s or parkinsonism. The clinical features of parkinsonism and Parkinson’s are similar and often indistinguishable. If you have movement problems including tremors, slow movement, and stillness and wonder whether you have Parkinson’s or parkinsonism, you’re not alone. It is challenging to identify. People are often diagnosed with Parkinson’s when they have another form of parkinsonism.

On the other hand, people can be diagnosed with the general umbrella term parkinsonism when they have Parkinson’s. Because the root cause and treatment for each form of Parkinsonism is different, it is critical to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Working with a Movement Disorder Specialist is undeniably the best option.

Additionally, those diagnosed with Parkinson’s and have an additional diagnosis of Dementia in more advanced stages may find they receive a Lewy Body Dementia Diagnosis. Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s with Dementia present with very similar symptoms. A diagnosis generally appears based on whether cognitive or motor symptoms present first. Treatments are relatively similar. Your doctor will help you classify which diagnosis is most appropriate based on the severity of your most aggravating symptoms.

Regardless if you have Parkinson’s or Parkinsonism, working with a specialist is critical to help you best manage your symptoms. It’s human nature to want a conclusive diagnosis; it can be uncomfortable sitting with uncertainty. It takes time, patience, and trial and error to figure out what will bring the most comfort to aggravating symptoms. Regardless of diagnosis, when it comes to treating both – it all comes down to symptom management. See your neurologist or movement disorder specialist with any questions you have regarding the management of your symptoms.


Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. Every Victory Counts. Your Go-To Resource for Essential Information and Inspiration for Living Well with Parkinson’s. “Manual.” Sixth Edition, 2021.


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