The majority of neurologists on the mainland can't distinguish Parkinson's disease from Parkinson-plus syndromes, according to experts who used yesterday's World PD Day to raise awareness of the illnesses among medical staff and the public.
For Parkinson's disease - a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that impedes motor functions and causes hand shaking, muscle rigidity and difficulty walking - there are effective methods of treating symptoms.
However, there is no effective form of therapy for Parkinson-plus syndromes - neurological conditions that are similar to Parkinson's disease but with unique characteristics.
Official figures show that there are at least 2 million with Parkinson's disease in China. The disease afflicts 1 per cent of people aged over 65, and the occurrence rate for those over 90 is above 6 per cent, according to renowned neurologist Dr Guo Hui, president of Shanghai's Quyang Hospital.
Guo said it was common for doctors at county-level hospitals, and even some at hospitals in major cities, to confuse Parkinson's disease with the syndromes.
'This misdiagnosis has saddled patients with much suffering,' he said. 'They have spent more money and visited plenty of clinics. Seeing the wrong doctors has cost them not only money but also energy and health,' Guo said.
According to Dr Chen Shengdi, director of neurology at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, there are only about 50 doctors across the mainland who have considerable knowledge of Parkinson's disease and are experienced in treating it.
Chen is also the leading author of the mainland's therapy guidelines on Parkinson's disease that were issued in 2009.
He said a national survey conducted several years ago found that the treatment being given to 60 per cent of people with Parkinson's disease did not comply with the national therapy guidelines.
In 2010, the Guangzhou Daily said the neurological diseases branch of the Chinese Medical Association had kicked off a two-year Parkinson's disease treatment programme to train 4,000 doctors in 40 mainland cities.
Chen said it was difficult to differentiate Parkinson's disease from the syndromes. But Guo says, one day of training is enough for doctors to grasp the skill needed to make the differentiation.
Guo is also calling on health officials to pay more attention to this issue, which is pressing in the context of the rising number of patients in an increasingly ageing society.
Noting that 'there is no one-for-all treatment method', Chen explained that 'there are different types of PD, in terms of symptoms; and there are different stages of PD.
'Also, people at different ages should receive different treatments. But as far as I know, many doctors prescribe one typical drug, levodopa tablets, for all patients, regardless of their unique conditions; and in many instances they prescribe a large volume. It's malpractice and detrimental for patients.'
He said patients had come to him and complained that the drugs he prescribed were not available in second- and third-tier cities.
Another Shanghai doctor, Dong Qing, from Renji Hospital, said the government needed to build more nursing centres to aid people with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
But Chen said such an undertaking would basically have to be started from scratch, as there are almost no such facilities on the mainland.
And the public's lack of awareness of such disorders, according to the three experts, comes largely from miseducation. Some people even believe that smoking can prevent and cure Parkinson's disease, Guo said.
Number who took part in a Hong Kong study last year that showed traditional Chinese medicine had a positive effect on Parkinson's disease