What Is Progressive Supranuclear Palsy?

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a complex condition that affects the brain. Palsy is a disorder that results in weakness of certain muscles. Supranuclear refers to the region of the brain affected by the disorder—the section above two small areas called nuclei. Progressive means that the condition's symptoms will keep worsening over time.

PSP affects your ability to walk normally by impairing your balance. PSP also affects the muscles controlling your eyes, making it difficult to focus and see things clearly. Changes in behavior and thinking can also occur.

Facts about progressive supranuclear palsy

Progressive supranuclear palsy is rare. Only about one in 100,000 Americans has the disorder. PSP may be easily mistaken for Parkinson's disease, which is much more common, because the conditions share many of the same symptoms. But with PSP, speech and difficulty swallowing are usually affected more significantly than with Parkinson's disease. Problems moving the eyes, especially problems looking downward, are also more common in PSP, but can occur late in the disease. And unlike people with Parkinson's 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. And although experts basically understand how PSP happens, 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 clear.

Although PSP is not fatal, symptoms do continue to worsen and it can't be cured. Complications that result from worsening symptoms, such as pneumonia (from breathing in food particles while choking during eating), can be life-threatening.

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