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Understanding the Difference between Tremors and Parkinson's

by Renee Le Verrier, Parkinson's Disease Expert
July 30, 2015

Question: My 85-year-old mother often experiences tremors and I wonder if she has Parkinson’s. I am visiting a doctor soon but I would like to understand the difference between tremors and Parkinson’s disease.

Answer: I’m glad you noticed the tremor and will be checking with your mother’s doctor or a neurologist. Tremors are involuntary, rhythmic movement of muscles that stem from a variety of sources. They are a symptom of a condition, one of which is Parkinson’s, though not all Parkinson’s patients experience tremors.

While tremors often indicate a central nervous system disorder, not all are serious. An important reason for an office is that one of the main tests a doctor conducts is through observation. A tremor that is symptomatic of Parkinson’s, for example, presents differently than muscle spasms in Multiple Sclerosis or contractions in Dystonia. Essential Tremor is sometimes mistaken as a sign of Parkinson’s but is not life threatening or degenerative.

A Parkinson’s tremor occurs at rest and usually (though not always) begins bilaterally, meaning on just the left or just the right side of the body. (As PD progresses, both sides can be affected.) When your hand is resting on your lap, for example, is when a PD tremor tends to occur. Where, in Essential Tremor, the involuntary movement tends to occur during action, such as when you’re pouring coffee.

Many people with Parkinson’s who experience tremors have reported that they do not find them to be bothersome, even when they are easily noticed. The spasms and contractions of MS and Dystonia, however, are less rhythmic and can be quite debilitating. Some people living with Parkinson’s also experience dystonia, which is a continuous, involuntary contraction of muscles.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, please visit the American Parkinson Disease Association at www.apdaparkinson.org, the Parkinson Disease Foundation at www.pdf.org, and the Michael J Fox Foundation at www.michaeljfox.org.

Renee Le Verrier is the co-director of the APDA's Arts & Movement Program and, in partnership with the APDA, she leads a Parkinson's Yoga Teacher Training Certificate Program. She is the author of the book, "Yoga for Movement Disorders" and its Companion DVD. She is also a certified yoga instructor and specializes in creating adaptations for people living with movement disorders.

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