Progressive supranuclear palsy, a common misdiagnosis in people with Parkinson’s disease

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on March 18th, 2021

As a condition that entails the gradual deterioration of specific volumes of the brain, progressive supranuclear palsy is often assigned as the right diagnosis in people who are actually struggling with Parkinson's disease. For this reason, seeking another opinion from a medical specialist is essential in receiving the correct diagnosis.

While the exact cause of progressive supranuclear palsy remains unknown, the condition is associated with the accumulation of tau protein in the brain. Progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare brain disorder, affecting 6 in 100,000 people. It leads to the sufferer experiencing symptoms such as problems with walking, balance, and eye movements, as well as with swallowing during the late stages of the condition. This brain disorder is also known as Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome. Because it is progressive, the symptoms tend to worsen over time, causing the sufferer great difficulty in performing everyday activities and thereby needing the help of another person. The most common symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy, which resemble those of Parkinson's disease, include:

  • loss of balance when walking
  • inability to aim the eyes properly
  • stiffness and awkward movements
  • recurrent falls
  • problems with speech and swallowing
  • sensitivity to light
  • sleep disturbances
  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • impulsive behavior, including laughing or crying for no reason
  • difficulties with memory, problem-solving, and decision-making
  • depression and anxiety
  • a surprised or frightened facial expression

Progressive supranuclear palsy usually occurs in people over the age of 60, which is another aspect that makes assigning a correct diagnosis challenging for medical professionals, as this is also the typical age of onset of Parkinson's disease. However, while they share numerous symptoms, the two brain disorders are different. If you have a family member with a history of paraquat exposure and they initially receive a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, they will need to seek a second and even a third opinion, as they may have been misdiagnosed. Paraquat exposure has a strong causal relation with Parkinson's disease and only people with this diagnosis are eligible for compensation from the responsible herbicide manufacturers.

What is the difference between progressive supranuclear palsy and Parkinson's disease?

One of the key aspects that help medical professionals differentiate progressive supranuclear palsy from Parkinson's disease is the pace at which the symptoms occur. Accordingly, while the symptoms of the former have a fast onset, those of the latter occur at a slower pace. Despite the fact that both progressive supranuclear palsy and Parkinson's disease tend to worsen over the years, people with the first brain disorder experience a faster onset of symptoms than those with the second.

Another difference between progressive supranuclear palsy and Parkinson's disease lies in the symptom of shuffling gait. The forward flexed posture that occurs in people with Parkinson's disease is rarely present in people with progressive supranuclear palsy. Usually, individuals with progressive supranuclear palsy experience unsteadiness and a tendency to fall backward. This is another crucial aspect for which doctors should look when evaluating the health of a person with this symptom.

Another characteristic feature of progressive supranuclear palsy is a visual disturbance. As a consequence, people with this brain disorder have difficulty looking up or down. On the other hand, individuals with Parkinson's disease experience other visual symptoms, such as poor visual acuity, impaired color vision, visual field defects, problems with saccadic eye movement, and nystagmus, which is a condition in which the eyes are making repetitive and uncontrolled movements. Moreover, a taut spastic face is another distinguishing feature of progressive supranuclear palsy, whereas loose "masked facies", a reduced degree of facial expression, generally accompanies Parkinson's disease.

Finally, trouble swallowing and difficulty with speech are two symptoms that occur in both people with progressive supranuclear palsy and those with Parkinson's disease. Nevertheless, these symptoms occur earlier and are considerably more severe in individuals with progressive supranuclear palsy than in those with Parkinson's disease. Furthermore, olfactory dysfunction is frequently associated with Parkinson's disease, but the sense of smell usually remains intact in people who struggle with progressive supranuclear palsy.

Quality legal assistance for people injured by paraquat exposure

The main area of practice of our law firm is toxic exposure, as we have been pursuing compensation on behalf of victims of toxic exposure since 1990. Our legal team has the necessary knowledge and resources to help your family member who was exposed to paraquat and developed Parkinson's disease recover the compensation they deserve. While the legal process is very complex, it will require minimal involvement on your part, as you will only have to provide your attorney with evidence of paraquat exposure and proof of diagnosis. However, your involvement as a family member is crucial, as people with Parkinson's disease often have a difficult time explaining their situation.

A very important aspect you need to keep in mind is the statute of limitations. It concerns the timeframe within which you can file a paraquat claim and depends on your state of residence. The majority of states have a statute of limitations of 2 or 3 years from the moment of diagnosis, which is why it is essential to reach out to a law firm as soon as your family member receives their diagnosis. The preparation of their paraquat claim entails a very tedious process and, if the statute of limitations is exceeded, your loved one will no longer be eligible for compensation. Eventually, you will recover the maximum compensation available on behalf of your family member if you choose to work with our skilled legal team. For additional information, please feel free to contact us and we will promptly answer your questions.