Symptoms of a Stroke vs. Parkinson's Disease

a woman stroking an older man's head in hospital

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Parkinson's disease and stroke are neurological conditions that many people confuse with each other because they can both cause physical disability and they both tend to affect people who are over 70 years old. If you have questions about the similarities and differences between a stroke and Parkinson's disease, below you'll find answers to the most common questions and concerns.

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What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Symptoms

Stroke symptoms can include visual changes, weakness, numbness, speech problems, and trouble thinking. Parkinson's disease specifically causes tremors of the arms or legs while you are at rest, slow movements and stiffness while walking, and a decrease in facial expression called a masked face. Stroke symptoms appear suddenly, while Parkinson's symptoms tend to gradually worsen.

What to Do

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect that you or someone else may be having a stroke, you need to call for immediate medical attention. If you notice that your walking is becoming increasingly stiff or slow and you suspect that you might have Parkinson's disease, you need to call your doctor to make an appointment. Parkinson's disease is manageable when caught early. The condition can worsen over time if it is not treated, but it is not a medical emergency.

Medications

There is no medication that can reverse the permanent brain damage caused by a stroke. However, a powerful blood thinner, TPA, can limit the damage and lead to significant improvement of a stroke patient's neurological condition if it is given within the first few hours after stroke symptoms first start.

Physical therapy and close medical care to prevent complications such as aspiration pneumonia and muscle atrophy are also very important in stroke management. Preventing another stroke is the key to stroke recovery.

Parkinson's disease, on the other hand, is often manageable with prescription medications that can control the symptoms and prevent the disease from getting worse.

Causes

A stroke is brain damage caused by interrupted blood flow to a region of the brain. There are many lifestyle and health risk factors that build up over the years to cause a sudden stroke.

Parkinson's disease is a disease caused by the gradual degeneration of the brain cells in a specific region of the brain called the substantia nigra, and an under-activity of a chemical in the brain called dopamine.

No one completely understands why some people are prone to developing Parkinson's disease, but genetics is probably part of the cause.

Links to Dementia 

A stroke usually does not typically cause dementia, but large strokes can cause trouble with thinking skills. When someone has many small strokes, that can cause a type of dementia called vascular dementia.

Parkinson's disease can cause dementia in later stages of the disease. There is a specific type of dementia called Lewy body dementia that is associated with movement problems very similar to the movement problems of Parkinson's disease, but patients will experience dementia early on.

Can a Stroke Cause Parkinson's Disease?

A stroke can cause some symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but not Parkinson's disease itself. This condition is called Parkinsonism. Parkinsonism is associated with many of the same movement problems of Parkinson's disease, such as tremors and stiffness. However, it usually does not worsen over time as Parkinson's disease does. If a stroke causes brain damage in the area of the brain that is associated with Parkinson's disease, then Parkinsonism can occur.

Can Parkinson's Disease Cause a Stroke?

No, Parkinson's disease does not affect blood flow in the brain and it does not cause or contribute to stroke. The medications used to control Parkinson's disease do not cause a stroke.

What If You Have Parkinson's Disease and a Stroke?

Stroke is relatively common and so is Parkinson's disease, so one person can have both. If you or your loved one has a stroke as well as Parkinson's disease, it is normal for you to be concerned.

The conditions have different causes, but the movement problems of Parkinson's disease combined with the effects of a stroke can make it even more difficult for you or your loved one to get around than if you only had one of the two problems.

If you have both conditions, it is more important to pay attention to things such as safeguarding your home to prevent falls and getting a walker or a cane in order to avoid falls.

Is Parkinson's Disease or Stroke Fatal?

Most people who have a stroke survive, but about 10% to 17% of people who have a stroke die from the stroke or from its complications. While Parkinson's disease is not fatal, some individuals with severe Parkinson's disease are very disabled because of the extreme movement problems.

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