Most often, symptoms like shaky hands or involuntary movements in the legs are associated with Parkinson's disease. But, they may also be indicators of a less severe neurological condition called essential tremor.

Since the diagnosis is often confusing, it is important to understand the differences between the two.

What is essential tremor?

It is a neurological disorder that can affect any part of the body, causing involuntary shaking, but it usually affects the hands. Essential tremor is not a life-threatening condition and may not pose serious problems. However, in some cases, the disorder can slowly worsen over time and cause disability.

The exact cause of essential tremors is not known, but studies show the condition is often inherited. It usually occurs in those above the age of 40, but can affect people at any age.

Symptoms of essential tremor:

  • Involuntary shaking that begins gradually and is more evident on one side of the body
  • The trembling worsens with movement
  • Factors such as stress, fatigue, caffeine and temperature extremes aggravate the symptoms
  • Affects fine motor movement
  • Uncontrolled head-nodding

Parkinson's disease

It is also a neurological condition that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements that worsen over time. As the disease progresses, patients have difficulty walking, talking and may show mental and behavioral changes, disruptions in sleep, depression, issues with memory and fatigue.

The condition usually affects people after the age of 60. However, about 5% to 10% experience the symptoms before the age of 50. Parkinson's disease is not generally hereditary, but in some cases, a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins, may trigger the condition.

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease:

  • Tremors in hands, arms, legs, jaw or head
  • Stiffness of muscle
  • Slow gait
  • Issues with balance and coordination
  • Depression
  • Stooped posture
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing and speaking
  • Urinary problems or issues with bowel movements
  • Skin problems
  • Difficulty to write and changes in handwriting

Know the differences between the two

1. Essential tremor is the most common form of tremor that affects about 5% of people over age 60. Parkinson's affects less than 1% of the total world population.

2. The trembling is of low amplitude (the distance the hand travels during a tremor) and high frequency in essential tremor, while patients with Parkinson's suffer from high amplitude, low frequency shaking.

3. Parkinson's disease is accompanied by a range of symptoms and tremor is one of them.

4. The symptoms usually improve with alcohol in case of essential tremors. However, it is not a treatment for the condition. The consumption of alcohol does not improve symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

5. The symptoms of essential tremor are evident during movement, while Parkinson's symptoms are mostly seen during rest.