types of parkinson's disease

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

The Different Types of Parkinson’s to Know

The intricate web of the human brain, with its billions of synapses and neurons, generally operates in harmony. Yet, anomalies can lead to movement and cognitive disorders. One prime example is Parkinson's disease (PD), prevalent in the U.S. While Parkinson's is a term familiar to many, its various forms are lesser-known. Let’s delve deeper into the world of PD to better understand its diverse manifestations.

The Different Types of Parkinson’s Disease

1. Idiopathic Parkinson's Disease (Traditional Parkinson's Disease)

Idiopathic Parkinson's disease stands as the archetype of PD. This prevalent form of movement disorder exhibits several defining characteristics. Its distinctiveness primarily lies in the following hallmark symptoms:

Bradykinesia (Slow Movement): A pronounced reduction in the speed and size of voluntary and automatic movements.
Tremors: Involuntary shaking or oscillation of the limbs, especially the hands, typically when they're at rest.
Rigidity: Stiffness and resistance to limb movement, often resulting in a decreased range of motion.
Postural Instability: Difficulty with standing or walking, and a propensity to fall without any external force (Parkinson’s Foundation, 2020a).

The genesis of idiopathic Parkinson's remains a topic of research, but current findings suggest a combination of genetic susceptibilities and environmental triggers (Parkinson’s Foundation, 2020b).

2. Atypical Parkinsonian Disorders

Diverging from the standard prototype of traditional Parkinson's are the atypical Parkinsonian disorders. These disorders manifest differently, characterized by distinctive symptoms. Here’s a more detailed look:

a. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP)

PSP is a challenging variant. The primary manifestations of this disorder include:

Balance Issues: Frequent falls due to a loss of balance.
Eye Movement Difficulties: A distinct inability to move the eyes properly, especially in the vertical plane.
Fixed Downward Gaze: Eyes tend to focus downwards, making it difficult to maintain direct eye contact.
Swallowing and Speech Challenges: As the disorder progresses, functions like swallowing and coherent speech become impaired (NINDS, 2020).

b. Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)

MSA, though initially resembling PD, unveils a unique set of symptoms as it progresses:

Autonomic Dysfunction: Disruptions in automatic body functions like blood pressure, bladder control, and sweating.
Coordination Challenges: Impaired movement coordination, often leading to unsteady gait and clumsy movements.
Rapid Progression: Unlike idiopathic Parkinson's, MSA advances quickly, underscoring the need for timely diagnosis and intervention (Parkinson’s Foundation, 2020c).

c. Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD)

CBD is a rare atypical Parkinsonian disorder and can be recognized by:

  • Limb Rigidity: Stiffness and resistance, especially noticeable in arms and legs.
  • Cognitive Impairments: Decline in memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Asymmetrical Symptoms: Symptoms tend to be more pronounced on one side of the body, leading to noticeable differences in the way the two sides function (Armstrong, 2019).

3. Secondary Parkinsonism

Unlike the other types, secondary parkinsonism isn't a standalone disorder but emerges as an offshoot of other conditions or medication side effects. Let's unravel the primary causes:

a. Drug-Induced Parkinsonism

Many might be surprised to know that certain medications can mirror the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The culprits behind drug-induced parkinsonism primarily include:

  • Antipsychotics: These drugs are the most common instigators. They can cause motor symptoms resembling PD.
  • Reversible Symptoms: One silver lining is that, upon stopping the medication, the PD-like symptoms usually diminish or disappear completely.
  • Antiemetic Drugs: Apart from antipsychotics, certain drugs used to control vomiting can also cause these symptoms (Connolly & Lang, 2014).
b. Post-stroke Parkinsonism

The intricate networks within our brains have profound effects on bodily function. A stroke can lead to a cascade of neurological implications, among them:

  • Parkinsonian Symptoms: Not all stroke survivors experience this, but some develop movement disorders that mimic PD.
  • Hemispheric Impact: The occurrence of these symptoms often depends on which hemisphere of the brain the stroke affected.
  • Complex Interplay: The brain regions damaged by the stroke and the interconnected neural pathways play a role in determining the emergence of these symptoms (Handley, Zelaya, & Reinders, 2015).

4. Diverse Faces of Parkinsonism

The term 'Parkinsonism' serves as an umbrella, covering a broad range of disorders, each manifesting in its unique way. While many are acquainted with the more dominant forms of this condition, it's crucial to recognize that the world of Parkinsonism is vast and varied. This diversity signifies that a one-size-fits-all approach is not just ineffective but potentially detrimental. Beyond the standard, there are other lesser-known forms that physicians and patients alike need to be aware of to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment (Parkinson’s Foundation, 2020d).

Key Aspects to Consider

  • Symptomatic Variation: Not all types present with the classic tremor or rigidity. Some might exhibit cognitive impairments or issues with balance as their primary symptom.
  • Rate of Progression: While some forms of Parkinsonism progress at a relatively steady pace, others might escalate rapidly, necessitating different treatment and care strategies.
    Etiology: The causes can vary widely. Some forms might result from medication side effects, others
  • from different neurological conditions, and still, others might remain idiopathic, with unknown origins.
  • Response to Treatment: It's essential to note that not all forms of Parkinsonism respond equally to standard Parkinson's treatments, reinforcing the need for specialized medical guidance.

The inclusion of these points accentuates the significance of individualized care and underscores the importance of comprehensive knowledge, both for healthcare providers and those affected by the condition.


The arena of PD, stretching from idiopathic Parkinson's to lesser-known forms like corticobasal degeneration, showcases the vastness of neurological conditions. Recognizing their nuances can aid in more effective treatment. As research continues, it's pivotal to be informed and consult specialists for guidance.

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