Do I have Parkinson’s Disease or an essential tremor?

While you may be familiar with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor is much less known, yet much more common — eight times more common, in fact.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system noticeable by resting tremor, balance issues, muscular rigidity, and slow movement. It typically affects middle-aged and elderly people. In addition to motor symptoms, Parkinson’s patients can also experience depression, sleep disorders, loss of smell, constipation. In Parkinson plus syndrome, patients can also have autonomic dysfunction, cognitive impairment, and hallucinations. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown.

Essential tremor is one of the most common movement disorders in the world that seems to strike people over age 40. It is a progressive condition which starts with an uncontrollable movement of the hands when trying to reach something. Essential tremor can happen in the vocal cords, the head, and the legs. Even the early stages, essential tremor can make life difficult. You may have trouble writing, holding things, putting key to the lock, and preforming fine movement in your job. Tremor can stop after drinking alcohol. Essential tremor is believed to be caused by a genetic mutation can be inherited.


The differences between Parkinson’s and an essential tremor include:

∫ Tremors are mostly seen when the body is at rest in Parkinson’s disease.

∫ Tremors occur at a higher frequency and when trying to reach things in essential tremor.

∫ Both start on one side of the body, commonly in the hands. Some Parkinson plus syndrome starts on both hands.

∫ Essential tremors can be seen in other family members 50 % of the time.

∫ Tremors in head and voice are more common in essential tremor.

∫ Other symptoms can be seen in Parkinson’s patients including stiffness, balance issues, gait issues, and slowed movements.

∫ Parkinson’s patients often experience a change in handwriting which makes the letters very small, while essential tremor handwriting gets large and quivery.

There are also other causes for tremors, such as: medication induced tremors, vascular tremors, and metabolic associated tremors. The diagnosis is made based on a complete medical history and physical exam, sometimes with the help of lab and imaging tests, by a neurologist. It is important to write down the symptoms you are having and be as specific as possible so you can share the details with your doctor.

Neither essential tremor nor Parkinson’s disease is curable. Treatments for both diseases are symptom control. If the symptoms interfere with daily life, medications and physical therapy can generally improve the quality of life. Deep brain stimulator can be placed to manage some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor that cannot be adequately controlled with medications.


Dr. Rachael Wang received her medical degree from Peking University, Health Science Center, Beijing, China, and is board-certified by the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry Neurology. Dr. Wang sees patients at the Neuroscience Center located in UPMC Susquehanna’s Health Innovation Center, 740 High St., Suite 3002, Williamsport. To learn more, call 570-321-2820.


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