Vascular parkinsonism (VP) is difficult to diagnose with any degree of clinical certainty. We investigated the importance of macroscopic cerebral infarcts and pathological findings associated with microscopic "small vessel disease" (SVD) in the aetiology of VP. The severity of microscopic SVD pathology (perivascular pallor, gliosis, hyaline thickening, and enlargement of perivascular spaces) and the presence of macroscopically visible infarcts were assessed in 17 patients with parkinsonism and no pathological evidence of either Parkinson's disease or any histopathological condition known to be associated with a parkinsonian syndrome, and compared with age-matched controls. Microscopic SVD pathology was significantly more severe in the parkinsonian brains. Most patients presented with bilateral bradykinesia and rigidity together with a gait disorder characterised predominantly by a shuffling gait. Four patients presented acutely with hemiparesis and then progressed to develop a parkinsonian syndrome. They could be distinguished from the remaining VP patients by the presence at autopsy of macroscopically visible lacunar infarcts in regions where contralateral thalamocortical drive might be reduced. The clinical features at presentation varied according to the speed of onset and the underlying vascular pathological state. New clinical criteria for a diagnosis of VP are proposed based on the clinicopathological findings of this study.
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