As the name suggests, vascular Parkinsonism is a condition that’s directly related to your vascular system and shares similarities to Parkinson’s disease (PD). While vascular Parkinsonism isn’t the same condition as PD, some of the symptoms are similar, including difficulty with large and small muscle control.
Diagnosing vascular Parkinsonism involves symptom evaluation and brain imaging, which often reveals a history of small strokes unknown to the individual. Treating this condition can be challenging, since vascular Parkinsonism doesn’t usually respond well to standard PD medications.
The outlook for someone with vascular Parkinsonism largely depends on the severity of the vascular disorder and how well risk factors, such as hypertension, are controlled.
Find out more about vascular Parkinsonism, including causes, known risk factors, available treatments, and more.
Vascular Parkinsonism is a condition in which areas of the brain that control movement have been damaged due to small strokes. This results in symptoms like muscle stiffness and balance problems, which are also common in PD.
Vascular Parkinsonism is one of several types of Parkinsonism. Parkinsonisms are conditions that cause symptoms that are similar to PD but are not PD. The other main types are:
- drug-induced Parkinsonism
- multiple system atrophy
- progressive supranuclear palsy
- normal pressure hydrocephalus
The vascular damage is often the result of small strokes that have occurred over a period of several years. PD, on the other hand, is caused by the impairment or death of brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine, which plays a critical role in regulating body movement, among other important functions.
Most of the well-known symptoms of PD are also present in vascular Parkinsonism. With vascular Parkinsonism, muscle control challenges are more concentrated in the lower body, whereas with PD, they tend to affect the entire body.
While tremors are common in people with PD, it isn’t a key symptom of vascular Parkinsonism. Some people with the vascular condition experience a resting tremor, but this usually occurs later in the course of disease.
The main symptoms of vascular Parkinsonism include:
Strokes may also affect your speech, cognition, and reflexes.
Diagnosing vascular Parkinsonism starts with a thorough review of your current symptoms and medical history, including your family medical history. A physical examination and a review of your current medications are also necessary.
To make sure your doctor gets an accurate diagnosis, brain imaging (also called neuroimaging) is critical. A 2019 scholarly review article suggests that an MRI of the brain can help determine whether your symptoms are caused by vascular Parkinsonism or PD. An accurate diagnosis is an important step in getting the most effective treatment.
Other brain imaging, such as a CT scan, can also be helpful for detecting signs of small strokes in the regions of the brain responsible for movement and muscle control.
Vascular Parkinsonism stems from problems with the blood vessels in the region of the brain that controls motor skills. A common trigger for the condition is a stroke or a series of small strokes that causes a disruption of blood flow to the deep centers of the brain.
These strokes can occur because one (or more) blood vessel in the brain becomes narrow from poorly controlled high blood pressure. This restricts blood flow to the brain cells.
Fatty plaques can also form within the arteries in the brain, which is a process called atherosclerosis. In addition, a blood clot from a blood vessel in the brain or elsewhere in the body can break off and become lodged in a brain artery, blocking blood flow to brain tissue.
In the case of a major ischemic stroke, the blockage sometimes needs medical treatment to be removed or broken up, so that healthy blood flow can resume. In the case of small, “silent” strokes that usually go unnoticed, a blood clot may become temporarily lodged in a brain artery before breaking up or moving along.
Risk factors for vascular Parkinsonism include:
Medications used to treat PD can sometimes, though not always, help control vascular Parkinsonism symptoms. One of the most widely used medications is levodopa (Sinemet, Duopa), which the body converts into dopamine.
Current vascular Parkinsonism treatments largely focus on managing symptoms and reducing the odds of disease progression. This means working with your doctor to get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels into healthy ranges, as well as taking medications and other steps to maintain those levels.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle may also help slow or prevent the symptoms from worsening. Some tips include:
- not starting to smoke or quitting smoking if you already do
- beginning a regular exercise routine
- eating a heart-healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, and low in sodium and saturated fat
Physical therapy to help with walking and balance, as well as other motor control issues, may be necessary.
Occupational therapy can be helpful if everyday functions, such as getting dressed, doing household chores, and other necessary activities have become more difficult.
Vascular Parkinsonism is a chronic condition, meaning it will always be with you. But unlike PD, it doesn’t necessarily have to progress or worsen over time.
Symptoms of vascular Parkinsonism can remain steady for years if an individual maintains a healthy lifestyle and works closely with a healthcare professional to manage key risk factors. Still, because the condition is caused by vascular disease, those with vascular Parkinsonism are more likely to have cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease, that can reduce life expectancy.
While the life expectancy for someone with PD may be as long as for someone without the condition, the outlook for a person with Parkinsonism in any form isn’t as encouraging. Compared to the general population, those with Parkinsonism tend to have a somewhat reduced life expectancy, especially if the condition sets in prior to age 70.
If you experience symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, such as muscle stiffness, balance problems, or tremor, seek a medical evaluation. Be prepared for several tests, and keep a close watch on your symptoms to diagnose the cause.
If the diagnosis is vascular Parkinsonism, things like quitting smoking, lowering your blood pressure, and making other healthy choices, can keep symptoms in check.