Progressive supranuclear palsy

Progressive supranuclear palsy, also called Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, is an uncommon brain disorder that causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movements. The disorder results from deterioration of cells in areas of your brain that control body movement and thinking.

Progressive supranuclear palsy worsens over time and can lead to life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and swallowing problems. There's no cure for progressive supranuclear palsy, so treatment focuses on managing the signs and symptoms.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

The characteristic signs and symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy include:

  • A loss of balance while walking. A tendency to fall backward can occur very early in the disease.
  • An inability to aim your eyes properly. You may have particular difficulty looking downward, or experience blurring and doubled vision. This difficulty with focusing the eyes can make some people spill food or appear disinterested in conversation because of poor eye contact.

Additional signs and symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy vary and may mimic those of Parkinson's disease and dementia. These signs and symptoms worsen as the disease advances, and may include:

  • Stiffness and awkward movements
  • Falling
  • Problems with speech and swallowing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Impulsive behavior, possibly including laughing or crying for no reason
  • Difficulties with memory, reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making
  • Depression and anxiety
  • A surprised or frightened facial expression, resulting from rigid facial muscles

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience signs and symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy.

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