Shaky hands don’t always mean you have Parkinson’s

Do shaky hands mean I have Parkinson’s disease? Not necessarily. Here’s what you should know.

You might associate uncontrollable shaking of the body with Parkinson’s disease. Although shaking is a classic sign of Parkinson’s, there are other movement disorders that include similar symptoms. Essential tremor affects about 10 million Americans, and Parkinson’s affects about 1 million. Telling these two conditions apart can be tricky, and diagnosis can take time.

Signs of essential tremor include:

  • Shaking on both sides of the body
  • Shaking that usually happens during activity, such as writing or eating
  • Tremors without other symptoms
  • Symptoms that vary in age of onset, intensity, duration, progression and resulting disability
  • Shaking mainly in the hands, but can include head and voice tremor

There are several key ways essential tremor is different from Parkinson’s disease.

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“In people with essential tremor, that’s really the main symptom,” said Justin T. Phillips, M.D., movement disorders neurologist with Norton Neuroscience Institute.

Signs of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Shaking mainly on one side of the body
  • Shaking that happens when the body is at rest
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Muscle rigidity and stiffness
  • Average age of onset 60 years old; typically with increased disability over time
  • Shaking occurring in the upper and lower extremities; usually not in the head

“Early signs of Parkinson’s and essential tremor can overlap,” Dr. Phillips said. “A patient can have both conditions, so it’s important to understand the differences in these disorders. People sometimes assume that if they shake at all, it’s Parkinson’s. That isn’t the case.”

If you have any of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease or tremor, talk to your health care provider— not only to diagnose your condition but also to rule out other causes for your symptoms.

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