Background: Dysarthria and dysphagia are known to occur in parkinsonian syndromes such as Parkinson disease (PD), dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), corticobasal degeneration (CBD), multiple system atrophy (MSA), and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Differences in the evolution of these symptoms have not been studied systematically in postmortem-confirmed cases.
Objective: To study differences in the evolution of dysarthria and dysphagia in postmortem-confirmed parkinsonian disorders.
Patients and methods: Eighty-three pathologically confirmed cases (PD, n = 17; MSA, n = 15; DLB, n = 14; PSP, n = 24; and CBD, n = 13) formed the basis for a multicenter clinicopathological study organized by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, Md. Cases with enough clinicopathological documentation for the purpose of the study were selected from research and neuropathological files of 7 medical centers in 4 countries (Austria, France, England, and the United States).
Results: Median dysarthria latencies were short in PSP and MSA (24 months each), intermediate in CBD and DLB (40 and 42 months), and long in PD (84 months). Median dysphagia latencies were intermediate in PSP (42 months), DLB (43 months), CBD (64 months), and MSA (67 months), and long in PD (130 months). Dysarthria or dysphagia within 1 year of disease onset was a distinguishing feature for atypical parkinsonian disorders (APDs) (specificity, 100%) but failed to further distinguish among the APDs. Survival time after onset of a complaint of dysphagia was similar in PD, MSA, and PSP (15 to 24 months, P =.7) and latency to a complaint of dysphagia was highly correlated with total survival time (rho = 0.88; P<.001) in all disorders.
Conclusions: Latency to onset of dysarthria and dysphagia clearly differentiated PD from the APDs, but did not help distinguish different APDs. Survival after onset of dysphagia was similarly poor among all parkinsonian disorders. Evaluation and adequate treatment of patients with PD who complain of dysphagia might prevent or delay complications such as aspiration pneumonia, which in turn may improve quality of life and increase survival time.