Progressive supranuclear palsy

Definition

Progressive supranuclear palsy is a movement disorder caused by damage to certain nerve cells in the brain.

Alternative Names

Dementia-nuchal dystonia; Richardson-Steele-Olszewski syndrome; Palsy - progressive supranuclear

Causes

Progressive supranuclear palsy is a condition that causes symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's disease.

It involves damage to many cells of the brain. The covering of certain nerve cells (myelin sheath) is destroyed. Entire nerves may be damaged in some areas. The cause of the damage to the brain cells is unknown. The disease gets worse over time (degenerative).

People with this condition have deposits in brain tissues that look like those found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. There is a loss of tissue in most areas of the brain.

The disorder is most often seen in people over 60 years old, and is somewhat more common in men.

Symptoms

  • Changes in expressions of the face
  • Deeply lined face
  • Different size pupils
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • General slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Jaw or face jerks or spasms
  • Loss of coordination, unsteady gait (walking pattern)
  • Mild dementia
    • Difficulty using knowledge
    • Forgetfulness
    • Indifference (apathy)
    • Slowed thought processes
  • Pain or difficulty with bending the neck up or down
  • Personality changes
  • Repeated falls
  • Slow or stiff movements
  • Speech difficulties
    • Low voice volume
    • Poor ability to speak clearly (enunciate)
    • Slow speech
  • Stiffness and rigid movement in the neck, middle of the body, arms, legs
  • Tremor
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Vision difficulty -- unable to look up or down without bending the neck

Exams and Tests

An exam of the nervous system (neurological examination) may show:

  • Limited eye movements
  • Mild dementia
  • Normal vision, hearing, sensation, and voluntary control of movement
  • Stiff and uncoordinated movements like those of Parkinson's disease

The health care provider may do tests to rule out other diseases. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might show shrinking of the brainstem.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. There is no known cure for progressive supranuclear palsy.

Levodopa and drugs that block the action of a nervous system chemical called acetylcholine (anticholinergic medications) may temporarily reduce symptoms. These medications are not as effective as they are for Parkinson's disease, however.

Many people with this condition will need around-the-clock care and monitoring as they lose brain functions.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Treatment sometimes can reduce symptoms temporarily, but the condition will get worse. Brain function will decline over time. Death commonly occurs in 5 to 7 years.

Possible Complications

  • Blood clot in veins (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Lack of control over gaze
  • Loss of brain functions over time
  • Pneumonia
  • Poor nutrition (malnutrition)
  • Side effects from medications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you often fall, and if you have a stiff neck/body and vision problems.

Also, call if a loved one has been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy and the condition has declined so much that you can no longer care for the person at home.

References

Goetz CG. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2007.


Review Date: 2/6/2008
Reviewed By: Daniel Kantor, MD, Director of the Comprehensive MS Center, Neuroscience Institute, University of Florida Health Science Center, Jacksonville, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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