Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a complex condition that affects the brain.
PSP affects your ability to walk
normally by impairing your balance. It also affects the muscles controlling your eyes.
It makes it hard to focus and see things clearly.
PSP is rare. It may be easily
mistaken for Parkinson disease, which is much more common and has similar symptoms. But
with PSP, speech and trouble swallowing are usually affected much more than with
Parkinson disease. Problems moving the eyes, especially looking downward, are also more
common in PSP. And unlike people with Parkinson disease, people with PSP are more likely
to lean backward (and fall backward) rather than forward.
PSP is more common in men than women. Most of the time, it affects people in late middle age or older.
PSP isn't fatal. But symptoms do
continue to get worse and it can't be cured. Problems that result from worsening
symptoms can be life threatening. An example is pneumonia from breathing in food
particles while choking during eating.
Experts basically understand how
PSP happens. But they don't understand why it happens. PSP occurs when brain cells in an
area of the brain stem become damaged. But how and why these cells are damaged isn't
Symptoms of PSP tend to start out subtly. Then over time they become more noticeable and severe. Often, the first sign is a problem with balance while walking. You may fall a lot or find that you feel a bit rigid or uncomfortable when you walk.
These are also early signs of PSP:
A careful assessment of symptoms
can diagnose PSP. But it is often hard to diagnose in its early stages as it may mimic
Parkinson disease or an inner ear infection. This is because balance is so affected by
PSP. Diagnosis often includes ruling out other health problems.
Balance problems and changes in
gait are the clearest symptoms that can identify PSP. This is especially true when
combined with an inability to control or move the eyes.
No medicine or procedure can cure
PSP or completely control its symptoms. But there are strategies and methods that can
help manage many of the symptoms. These include:
PSP can cause serious complications
when symptoms affect your ability to swallow. You could easily choke on food or breathe
food into your lungs. And being more likely to fall raises the risk of suffering a
serious injury to the head or breaking a bone.
There is no known cure for PSP. But
medicines and devices can help you live with the symptoms. Work with your healthcare
provider to find ways to make walking safer and improve your vision. PSP is not fatal.
But it is important that you do not breathe in food particles (aspirate) while you are
eating. It could be life threatening.
It may be easy to try to brush off
initial symptoms as being a little clumsy or maybe having an ear infection. But it's a
good idea to see a healthcare provider at the earliest sign of symptoms, especially if
you have problems with your eyes or vision.
Always seek advice from your
healthcare provider if you or your caregiver notice sudden or major changes in your
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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