Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common and well-known neurodegenerative disorders in the world. Worldwide, estimates suggest that over 10 million people currently live with Parkinson’s disease. In America alone, there are about 60,000 new Parkinson’s diagnoses every year.
One of the main and most characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is a tremor or involuntary shaking. However, Parkinson’s disease is by no means the only condition that causes a tremor. Essential tremors are also noted by shaking. Learn more about the difference between essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease below.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system that mainly involves damage to certain parts of the brain responsible for producing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to the dopamine-producing neurons contributes to abnormal brain activity for PD patients. Over time, this affects a Parkinson’s patient’s muscle control and impairs their movement.
Parkinson’s is a progressive diagnosis, meaning that Parkinson’s disease symptoms can develop gradually over several years. That progression can vary from person to person. Currently, there are no known treatments for a Parkinson’s patient or cures for Parkinson’s disease, but medication, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery can help you control symptoms and slow down the movement disorder’s progress.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Knowing the early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease is very important for your health. Non-motor and motor symptoms can vary slightly from case to case in PD patients. Early signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may be too mild to notice or may be mistaken for other similar conditions.
As mentioned, tremors are typically the most common symptom in all Parkinson’s patients. Action tremor is characterized by involuntary shaking that usually begins in the limbs, like your hand shaking even when you are at rest. They may manifest as pill-rolling tremors, wherein you rub your thumb and index finger together.
Slow movement, medically known as bradykinesia, is another common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. As the disease progresses, all of your movements may get slower and slower, making everyday tasks difficult or more time-consuming. What are some motor symptoms? You may have trouble walking or lifting yourself out of chairs. Your feet may drag or feel like they are stuck to the floor, and your steps may get shorter.
Your limbs may also become rigid. Muscle rigidity and stiffness can be painful and reduce your full range of motion. Furthermore, your posture may begin to deteriorate, resulting in you stooping, slouching, postural instability, or hunching over even when you think you are standing straight. Performing coordination exercises for Parkinson’s patients may be beneficial for their physical health.
poor muscle control can affect other parts of your body. For example, your voice may change, becoming softer, lower, or hoarser. Your handwriting may change as well, with your letters becoming smaller and more clumped together. Your sleep may suffer as the disease may force you to thrash in your sleep or even act out your dreams.
You may even lose your sense of smell. Parkinson’s disease has been shown to affect the olfactory system, resulting in changes to your sense of smell that can far precede any motor dysfunction symptoms. As smell and taste are closely linked, this can also contribute to food tasting blander.
What Is Essential Tremor?
Similar to Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor is a neurological disorder, and it typically gets worse over time, resulting in severe symptoms. Although essential tumor is usually not dangerous on its own, its effects can be devastating and cause difficulties in your career and everyday life making it a severe tremor.
While it is not as well-known as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor is actually more common than Parkinson’s. Essential tremor affects about 5 percent of people over the age of 50, though tremor syndrome symptoms can initially appear in a person’s 40s.
There is no known cause for essential tremor syndrome. Some theories suggest that the disorder causes problems within the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain responsible for movement and balance.
Essential tremor does not have a known cure or treatment, but medication and practical measures can help you manage your symptoms and tremor frequency. Medications for essential tremor usually involve beta blockers, like propranolol, or anti-seizure medications. If medication does not have any meaningful effect, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Symptoms of Essential Tremor
The primary symptom of essential tremor is involuntary, rhythmic shaking. This tremor can affect any part of the body, though the disorder typically occurs most often in the hands and arms. These symptoms can potentially progress to the voice and head, though for many people the symptoms are relegated to mild tremors in the hands and arms. When it does spread to the head, a head tremor may manifest as “no-no” or “yes-yes” nodding.
Essential tremor begins slowly and usually affects one side of the body. The tremor also gets worse when you move. Tremors can also get aggravated by caffeine, fatigue, extreme temperatures, or emotional distress.
Parkinson’s Disease vs. Essential Tremor
One of the characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is a tremor, so it is not uncommon for people to mistake tremors from Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors. Although the two do appear similar at face value, they are entirely separate in several ways.
The mechanisms at play are entirely different. As mentioned, Parkinson’s disease is noted by deteriorating neurons that produce dopamine. Essential tremor does involve disruptions in motor pathway activity, but the exact mechanism that causes essential tremors is not known. Initial studies point to abnormalities in the brainstem and cerebellum.
The timing of the two conditions is completely different. Essential tremor is known as an “action tremor.” This means that the tremors become more intense when you actually use your hands, which can be troublesome when you are trying to write, type, or tie your shoelaces. Tremors that come from Parkinson’s disease usually manifest when you are at rest, and staying active can actually reduce the symptoms.
Essential tremor is usually relegated to involuntary shaking in the limbs. It typically does not contribute to any other symptoms. Parkinson’s disease, however, results in numerous other symptoms listed above. For example, balance problems and rigid muscles are common to Parkinson’s disease but generally are not a factor in essential tremor. Some people with essential tremor may develop an unsteady gait or other neurological issues, but this is not common.
On the other hand, while essential tremor can potentially spread to the head in the form of head nodding or shaking, this is much less common in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Parts of the Body Affected
Essential tremor mainly affects your hands, though it can spread to your head and affect your voice. Parkinson’s disease is a bit more comprehensive. It typically starts in the hands but can spread to your legs and affect any part of your body.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol can temporarily ease symptoms of essential tremor. With Parkinson’s disease, alcohol generally has no effect. (This can be an effective way of diagnosing essential tremor and differentiating it from other neurological conditions, but it does not mean that you should treat an essential tumor by consuming alcohol.)
Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor are understandably easy to mistake for one another, but they are different in several ways and require different forms of treatment. If you experience tremors of any kind, talk to your doctor to get a diagnosis and determine the best steps for treatment or visit Immunity Therapy Center for help.
- Parkinson’s Foundation. Parkinson’s Statistics. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Statistics
- Parkinson’s Foundation. What is Parkinsons? https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons
- Haehner, Antje et al. “Olfactory loss in Parkinson’s disease.” Parkinson’s disease vol. 2011 (2011): 450939. https://www.doi.org/:10.4061/2011/450939
- Harvard Medical School. Essential tremor and how to manage it. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/essential-tremor-and-how-to-manage-it
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