Movement Disorders Caused by Medical Disease

Brandon Barton; S. Elizabeth Zauber; Christopher G. Goetz


Semin Neurol. 2009;29(2):97-110. 

In This Article


The term parkinsonism describes a clinical syndrome with the cardinal motor features of rest tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and postural instability. Parkinsonism occurs due to disruption of the structure, physiology, or neurochemical function of the dopaminergic pathway traveling from the substantia nigra to the subcortical nuclei, including the putamen and caudate nucleus (striatum), thalami, and cortical circuits. This primary cell system can be influenced by involvement of the brainstem or other basal ganglia nuclei. Although the most common cause of parkinsonism is Parkinson's disease, a wide range of medical conditions and treatments may be associated with parkinsonian signs. Given that these secondary causes of parkinsonism may involve a different prognosis or treatment than Parkinson's disease, an individual patient presenting with parkinsonism requires a thorough medical history. In general, presentations of parkinsonism with rapid or subacute onset, mild or absent rest tremor, symmetric akinesia and rigidity, and early-onset gait disorder with postural instability suggest secondary causes of parkinsonism.

Disorders of Metabolism

Many kinds of metabolic disorders may cause parkinsonism.

Thyroid Disease. Hypothyroidism shares many features in common with parkinsonism -- including rigidity, fatigue, masked facial expression, constipation, depression, and slowed movements, speech, and gait -- but can be distinguished from Parkinson's disease by other medical features and diagnostic studies of endocrine dysfunction. The development of hypothyroidism in the setting of Parkinson's disease may be mistaken for worsening parkinsonism, but the symptoms can improve with thyroid hormone replacement.[1] Conversely, hyperthyroidism may mimic the weight loss or increased sweating seen with Parkinson's disease or may exaggerate parkinsonian tremor, and improvement occurs with antithyroid treatment.[2]

Renal Failure. Parkinsonism has been reported in patients with uremia due to end-stage renal disease, particularly in patients with concomitant diabetes.[3] Typical features include acute or subacute onset of parkinsonian symptoms and additional clinical features of altered consciousness, myoclonus, dysarthria, and ataxia. Neuroimaging findings include bilateral, symmetric, and reversible basal ganglia lesions with evidence of vasogenic edema.[4]

Calcium Disorders. Disorders of calcium metabolism may occur in association with parkinsonism. Hypoparathyroidism has been reported to cause parkinsonism both in the presence and absence of basal ganglia calcifications. It may occur as a late complication after thyroidectomy[5] and may be responsive to levodopa in some cases.[6] Pseudohypoparathyroidism, characterized by end-organ resistance to normal endogenous parathyroid hormone, may be associated with parkinsonism in up to 4 to 12% of patients, either with or without evidence of basal ganglia calcifications,[7] and may respond partly to normalization of serum calcium.[8] Hyperparathyroidism due to parathyroid adenomas can rarely cause parkinsonism, which is reversible after surgical removal of the tumor.[9] Bilateral subcortical calcification involving the basal ganglia and cerebellum, often labeled as Fahr's disease, represents a heterogeneous collection of disorders that are not associated with a known disorder of calcium metabolism. Movement disorders in Fahr's disease most commonly present as parkinsonism (55%), often in association with dementia, cerebellar signs, or other hyperkinetic movements including chorea, tremor, and dystonia.[10]

Iron Metabolism. Hereditary hemochromatosis is an autosomal-recessive disorder characterized by abnormal iron accumulation in several organs, including the heart, liver, pituitary gland, and pancreas. Concurrent movement disorders in patients with hereditary hemochromatosis have rarely been reported, including eight cases of parkinsonism,[11] as well as other movement disorders such as dystonia and tremor. There is debate, however, as to whether hereditary hemochromatosis is a cause of movement disorders or whether the association is only coincidental.[12]

Liver Failure. Non-Wilsonian liver disease may be associated with parkinsonian syndromes. Acquired hepatocerebral degeneration is a syndrome of neuropsychiatric and motor abnormalities associated with chronic liver failure. Multiple clinical phenotypes have been described, including isolated parkinsonism, cognitive impairment with psychiatric features, and gait ataxia associated with cognitive impairment and other motor signs, such as tremor and dystonia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) demonstrates T1 basal ganglia hyperintensities, which are believed to correlate with brain manganese deposition (Figure 1).[13] A prospective evaluation of 51 liver transplant candidates documented 11 patients with parkinsonism who had postural tremor, lack of rest tremor, rapid progression, symmetric bradykinesia and rigidity, and early gait and postural impairment. These patients had T1 hyperintensities in the substantia nigra and globus pallidus, elevated serum and cerebrospinal fluid manganese levels, and variable response to levodopa therapy.[14] Although ideal treatment of this disorder is unclear, the parkinsonism has been reported to improve after liver transplantation.[15]

Figure 1.

T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in a patient with chronic liver disease (cirrhosis) and parkinsonism. Bilateral, symmetric hyperintensities of the globus pallidus are demonstrated on sagittal (A) and axial (B) images. Hyperintensity of the substantia nigra and hypothalamus are also noted (C).

Electrolyte Disturbance. Extrapontine and central pontine myelinolysis syndromes can occur in the setting of chronic alcohol use, liver disease, rapid correction of sodium electrolyte imbalance, or malnutrition. Rarely, these syndromes may be associated with a subacute course of parkinsonism, often with neuropsychiatric symptoms and dystonia, which may respond to levodopa treatment.[16]

Mitochondrial Disease. Parkinsonism may be observed in up to 12% of adult patients with respiratory chain disorders associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, including Leber hereditary optic neuropathy. Additional features usually include myopathy, polyneuropathy, progressive external ophthalmoplegia, and premature menopause. In this context, levodopa may improve parkinsonism and cause drug-induced dyskinesias.[17]

Inborn Errors of Metabolism. Gaucher's disease is caused by an autosomal recessively inherited deficiency of glucocerebrosidase (GBA) secondary to a mutation in the GBA gene, leading to accumulation of intracellular glucosylceramide. The disease manifests itself in a wide range of organ systems, with signs of hepatosplenomegaly, osteopenia, anemia, cardiopulmonary disease, or neurodegenerative syndromes. Neurological signs include ataxia, pyramidal signs, myoclonic epilepsy, or supranuclear ophthalmoplegia. A syndrome resembling Parkinson's disease occurs in patients with Gaucher's disease or carriers of GBA mutations, with relatively mild Gaucher's symptoms. Unlike typical Parkinson's disease, these patients have an earlier onset and more aggressive disease course, with more prominent cognitive decline and less responsiveness to anti-Parkinson's medications, although classic levodopa response has been described.[18] Mutations in the GBA gene have been shown to increase the risk for developing Parkinson's disease up to 13-fold compared with controls.[19]

Phenylketonuria, an autosomal-recessive disorder caused by deficiency of enzymatic conversion of phenylalanine to tyrosine, may result in severe neurological disability with seizures, mental retardation, and microcephaly unless treated by a strict diet in early infancy. Parkinsonism may occur in adult phenylketonuria patients after relaxation of dietary restrictions, and can be responsive to reinstitution of dietary therapy and levodopa.[20]

Infectious Disease

Multiple types of movement disorders, including parkinsonism, may occur as a consequence of central nervous system infections, either as an acute or chronic manifestation.[21] Infectious diseases with parkinsonism as their most frequent manifestation include Japanese encephalitis, encephalitis lethargica, influenza A encephalitis (as a long-term complication), and neurocysticercosis; the last disease is related to both focal basal ganglia lesions and secondary hydrocephalus. Other infections associated with parkinsonism include other forms of viral encephalitis (arbovirus, enterovirus, varicella-zoster virus, measles virus/subacute sclerosing panencephalitis), Mycobacterium tuberculosis meningitis or tuberculomas, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Salmonella typhi, Plasmodium falciparum, prion disease, and African trypanosomiasis.

As a special case, a variety of movement disorders may occur in the context of infection with HIV through several proposed mechanisms, including drug-induced parkinsonism, focal lesions of the basal ganglia from opportunistic infections or other secondary etiologies, or pathological changes related to HIV-associated dementia (HAD). In comparison with Parkinson's disease, parkinsonism with HAD presents with more symmetric symptoms, less frequent occurrence of rest tremor, and earlier presentation of postural instability and gait disorders. Parkinsonism is a common feature of HAD, supported by documented pathological and radiological abnormalities of the basal ganglia in patients with this disorder.[22] Parkinsonism may, although rarely, be the presenting feature of HIV infection and can respond to therapy with levodopa and highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).[23] In addition, HIV-infected patients are more susceptible to the extrapyramidal side effects of dopamine receptor-blocking medications than HIV-negative patients, and drug interactions between HIV medications and other classes of medications may also predispose these patients to parkinsonism.[22]

Autoimmune Disease

Sjögren's Syndrome. Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder associated with exocrine gland dysfunction, with symptoms of dry eyes or dry mouth and evidence of lymphocytic infiltration of the salivary and lacrimal glands. Sjögren's syndrome can be associated with a wide variety of central and peripheral neurological symptoms. Parkinsonism has been reported in eight patients with Sjögren's syndrome, some with abnormal white matter lesions on neuroimaging, all lacking significant response to levodopa, and with variable improvement with immunosuppressive therapy.[24]

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Systemic lupus erythematosus is associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which occur in 30 to 60% of patients. Movement disorders are rarely reported, and chorea is seen more often than parkinsonism or myoclonus.[25] Recent literature reviews and case reports identify 29 cases of systemic lupus erythematosus-associated parkinsonism,[26] 10 with juvenile onset.[27] Most cases were young women under 30 years of age. Rigidity and akinesia were more common signs than tremor, and one third of the cases had hyperreflexia and Babinski signs. Additional associated features included mutism, anorexia, seizures, psychiatric symptoms, and altered consciousness, suggesting more widespread brain involvement. All patients who were treated with immunomodulatory therapy and/or antiparkinsonian medications improved. The mechanisms of extrapyramidal symptoms in systemic lupus erythematosus are unclear, with possible direct or indirect contributions from the disease: only a minority of patients had focal basal ganglia lesions on neuroimaging, one case demonstrated serum antidopaminergic antibodies,[28] and neuroimaging in one case noted basal ganglia hyperperfusion.[29]

Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome. Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is rarely associated with parkinsonism, with a probable main mechanism of thrombo-occlusive vasculopathy, and is associated with periventricular white matter changes on MRI, cerebral infarctions, and poor response to levodopa treatment.[30]

Neuro-Bechet's Disease. Behçet's disease may cause parkinsonism in the setting of oral ulcerations, recurrent monoarthritis, and skin papules and pustules, with abnormal MRI findings in the basal ganglia.[31]

Nonvasculitic Autoimmune Inflammatory Meningoencephalitis. Nonvasculitic autoimmune inflammatory meningoencephalitis (NAIM) is a syndrome involving encephalopathy, evidence of inflammatory disease on tissue biopsy, and responsiveness to steroids. It may present in a similar manner to prion disease, with rapidly progressive parkinsonism, dementia, and myoclonus associated with periodic sharp wave complexes on electroencephalogram (EEG), but responds dramatically to high-dose corticosteroids.[32]


Paraneoplastic parkinsonism is rare. Two cases were associated with breast cancer, one described as a syndrome of parkinsonism and painful dystonia, with progression to death 5 months after onset. On autopsy, there was degeneration of the substantia nigra without Lewy bodies or inflammation.[33] Another case described a patient with multiple myeloma and rapidly progressive parkinsonism with incontinence, impotence, and levodopa-induced moaning. Pathological findings included loss of pigmented neurons from the substantia nigra without Lewy bodies. In addition, there are two reports of progressive supranuclear palsy-like syndromes in association with B-cell lymphoma and bronchial carcinoma.[34] No immunological markers had been discovered for the above cases. More recent reports have documented associations with specific antibodies. The collapsin response-mediator protein (CRMP)-5 antibody has been reported with a few cases of parkinsonism,[35] and antineuronal nuclear antibody type 2/Anti-Ri has been reported with two cases of parkinsonism and breast cancer.[36] Anti-Ma2-associated encephalitis has been associated with atypical parkinsonism in three patients, with a syndrome of severe hypokinesia and rigidity associated with dystonia, hyperreflexia, excessive sleepiness, hypophonia, and poor verbal output.[37] Parkinsonism was reported in 11% of a series of 72 patients with voltage-gated potassium channel autoimmunity, in addition to tremor (7%) and chorea (3%).[38]


Exposure to a variety of exogenous environmental toxins may play a role in the development of parkinsonism, and may be risk factors for Parkinson's disease based on current models of the molecular pathogenesis of the disease.[39] Reported agents include organophosphates, methanol, cyanide, mercury, carbon disulphide, aliphatic hydrocarbons, manganese, and addictive drugs (MPTP [1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine]), heroin pyrolysate, inhaled solvents such as toluene, and ecstasy).[40] Exposure history, improvement after removal from the putative toxic environmental source, and, in some cases, biochemical assays may help solidify the diagnosis.

Ephedronic Encephalopathy. A distinct syndrome of parkinsonism, severe hypophonia, and gait abnormality in association with manganese-related hyperintense signal on T1-weighted MRI in the globus pallidus and substantia nigra has recently been reported in Eastern European methcathinone users; these patients also had hepatitis C and/or HIV.[41]

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning may lead to delayed-onset postanoxic parkinsonism in up to 10% of patients, typically within 4 weeks but occurring up to 6 months after initial encephalopathy, associated with changes in the pallidum on neuroimaging.[42] Antiparkinsonian drugs are not effective, but spontaneous recovery occurs in the majority of patients after 6 months.

Total Parenteral Nutrition. Patients on long-term total parenteral nutrition (TPN) may have high-signal abnormalities in the basal ganglia, but the relationship of these imaging abnormalities, presumably due to manganese deposition, to neurological symptoms is unclear, because they may occur in asymptomatic patients.[43]


A variety of drugs commonly used in the treatment of medical disease may cause drug-induced parkinsonism, and may account for up to 20% of cases of parkinsonism in a community setting.[44] In contrast to Parkinson's disease, women are affected more commonly than men.

Dopamine Receptor-blocking Medications. Drug-induced parkinsonism can occur in patients treated with dopamine receptor blockers, such as antipsychotics (haloperidol, risperidone, perphenazine), antiemetic agents (prochlorperazine, promethazine), and prokinetic agents (metoclopramide). A history of dopamine receptor-blocking medication use may not be offered up front, requiring specific questioning about their use in the evaluation of new-onset parkinsonism. Metoclopramide, a frequently used drug in the treatment of gastroparesis, esophagitis, nausea, and vomiting, may account for up to 29% of drug-induced parkinsonism in the elderly (with average age of 69), second only to antipsychotics.[45] Although drug-induced parkinsonism may be less prevalent in patients treated with atypical, newer generation antipsychotics compared with traditional neuroleptics, the risk is still clinically pertinent. Discontinuation of the offending agent usually leads to recovery in several weeks or months.

Other Medications. Among the other medications used to treat medical diseases that are reported to cause reversible parkinsonism or exacerbate Parkinson's disease in small series or single case histories are calcium channel blockers (diltiazem, nifedipine, verapamil), monoamine depleters (reserpine, tetrabenazine), antiarrhythmic drugs (amiodarone), anticonvulsants (phenytoin, sodium valproate), immunosuppressants or chemotherapeutic agents (cyclosporine, vincristine, busulfan, cytosine arabinoside, doxorubicin), lithium, procaine, α-methyldopa, chloroquine, buspirone, and high doses of diazepam.[40] When the drug is stopped, parkinsonism improves; in those cases where parkinsonism persists, it is probable that the patient had early Parkinson's disease unmasked by the drug.