Essential Tremor vs Parkinson’s Tremor – How to Differentiate Between the Two?

essential tremor vs Parkinson's tremor

Both Essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease are brain disorders that interfere with individual’s movements. Since tremor is common in both cases, they can be mistaken for each other. However, both are completely different conditions and several ways are used to distinguish between the two.

Here are 8 differences that help to differentiate between Essential tremor and Parkinson’s tremor.

1. Parkinson’s disease is a brain condition that occurs as a result of the death of a specialized group of cells called dopaminergic neurons. They produce a chemical Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for movement. Tremor is one of the key symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Other symptoms include slowness of movement, rigidity, and abnormal gait.

Essential tremor is also a neurological condition that is primarily characterized by involuntary and rhythmic shaking of hands. Although the exact cause of the disease is still uncertain, it is now known that it is an inherited disease, about 50% of the cases have a clear cut genetic origin. Tremor is primarily seen in hands, but can also affect other parts like head, legs, and neck.

2. Parkinson’s tremor is a condition of old people, it usually affects people over 60. People at their young age are rarely reported to have Parkinson’s tremor. Essential tremor, on the other hand, can occur at any age. It is more common in people age 40 and older.

3. Genetics is mostly responsible for causing Essential tremor. More than 50% of the patients with Essential tremor have a family history, although specific genes linked to Essential tremor have not been identified yet. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, the role of genetics is rare. Less than 10% of the patients are known to have a genetic origin. The genes that are most commonly linked to Parkinson’s disease include PRKN, PINK1, DJ-1, SNCA, LRRK2, and ATP13A2.

4. Essential tremor is usually action tremor, meaning that the tremor appears when the patient performs some sort of movement functions like writing, eating, or holding a cup or glass. Whereas, Parkinson’s tremor is mostly a resting tremor. In this case, the tremor appears when the hands are at rest.

This criterion is often used to clearly differentiate between the two types of tremors at the clinic.

5. Essential tremor is more common than Parkinson’s tremor. It affects 4 out of 100 individuals over the age of 40, and it appears in men and women equally. Parkinson’s tremor is thought to affect 1 in 500 people. It occurs more commonly in men than in women.

6. The handwriting (which is usually considered a useful diagnostic tool in tremor disorders) of people with Essential tremor is generally large and jerky. While Parkinson’s patients’ handwriting tends to be small (micrographia) and slow.

7. Essential tremor usually starts on both sides of the body. In addition to hands, head and voice are also affected. Whereas Parkinson’s tremor initially appears on one side of the body and then spreads to the rest of the body. In this case, the tremor primarily appears in hands and legs, while head and voice are rarely affected.

8. Parkinson’s tremor can be treated with Levodopa, which is the most commonly prescribed drug for Parkinson’s patients. Essential tremor, on the other hand, is usually treated with Primidone and Propanolol.

Tremor, either Essential or Parkinson’s, can get worse over time and make it difficult for patients to perform self-care tasks. In addition to medication, the patients are recommended to use occupational therapy for performing tasks that required eating, drinking, daily grooming, and writing. Various hand activities like squeezing or rolling a ball, flicking the hand, and twirling the pen may help to ease tremor. The use of adaptive devices like weighted utensils, liftware stabilizing spoon, handSteady cup, and heavy weighted pens can also help to ease the effects of tremor during eating, eating, and writing.

Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.

5 thoughts on “Essential Tremor vs Parkinson’s Tremor – How to Differentiate Between the Two?”

  1. I have been diagnosed with ETD, by a neurologist . I Shake when stressed by my husband and my mom, I’m constantly shaking like a person having alcohol ?withdrawals .emotion stress , my physical stress is walking to long I have back spasms.

    • We strongly recommend consulting with your family doctor/health care provider first. He/she should do a brief examination and refer you to neurologist if needed for further diagnosis.


Leave a Comment