What is the difference between Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism?

Nader Pouratian, MD

Parkinsonism is the syndrome of having a combination of slowness of movement, stiffness and tremor. Many related diseases can cause parkinsonism, or parkinsonian symptoms, including Parkinson’s disease, vascular parkinsonism and atypical parkinson’s syndromes such as multiple-systems atrophy (MSA) and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Parkinson’s disease specifically refers to patients who have parkinsonism, do not have any atypical features, and who have an essentially normal MRI that excludes other causes for their parkinsonian symptoms. In many cases, Parkinson’s disease is referred to as “idiopathic” Parkinson’s disease, meaning that all other causes of parkinsonism have been eliminated. Of all patients with parkinsonism, patients with Parkinson’s disease respond best and the longest to medications and are potential candidates for deep brain stimulation surgery.

Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiology

Parkinsonism is a generic term for a group of symptoms that can be seen in someone with Parkinson's disease such as tremor, stiffness, and slowness of movement. There are several conditions other than Parkinson's disease which can cause these symptoms. Parkinson disease is a specific disease process leading to these symptoms. A neurologist determines the cause of parkinsonism by taking a careful history, performing an examination, and sometimes by ordering blood tests or imaging procedures such as MRI.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.