Updated on 05/01/2024

Does Having Essential Tremor Increase the Risk of Parkinson's Disease?

Photo: Dilek Necioğlu Örken

What is Essential Tremor?

Essential tremor (ET) is a neurological disorder that leads to action tremors. The primary symptom of ET is a tremor, usually bilateral that occurs in the arms and hands during activities such as eating, writing, or reaching for an object. It may sometimes be more pronounced on one side than the other (right or left). While the arms are most commonly affected, ET can also impact the head, voice, and other parts of the body. The exact cause of ET is not well understood, but it is known to run in families. ET is generally not a life-threatening condition, but it can worsen over time and become severe enough to interfere with daily life. ET can sometimes be confused with Parkinson's Disease (PD).

In contrast, PD typically presents with tremors that initially appear unilaterally and are often present when a person is at rest. PD usually does not affect head movement, voice, or handwriting, although there can be handwriting shrinkage (micrographia). PD also leads to additional symptoms not seen in ET, such as slowness, stiffness (rigidity), a stooped posture, and walking difficulties. Both conditions are progressive.

Who Gets Essential Tremor?

ET can onset at any stage of life, even in childhood, but it is more commonly observed in young adulthood and later years.

How Does Essential Tremor Progress?

ET is not life-threatening, but its symptoms can worsen over time. When tremors become severe, tasks like holding a cup or utensils without spilling, eating without dropping food, applying makeup, or shaving  become challenging.

Does Having Essential Tremor Increase the Risk of Parkinson's Disease?

I usually advise my patients diagnosed with ET to come for annual check-ups and monitor any changes in their condition. Despite being a progressive condition, it is generally not considered a life-threatening disease, so patients may tend to skip these check-ups. However, a study published in Neurology Clinical Practice on May 10th highlights the importance of not missing these follow-ups. According to this study, the incidence of Parkinson's Disease (PD) was significantly higher in individuals with essential tremor (ET) compared to control groups. In the study, 193 ET patients were followed for 4.1 years, and seven of them (3.6%) transitioned from ET to Essential Tremor-Parkinson's Disease (ET-PD) during the follow-up period.

1. Shaw G. Study Answers Longstanding Question Do Patients With Essential Tremor Have an Increased Risk for Parkinson's Disease? Neurology Today 2023; June 15
2. Elan D. Louis, Diane Berry, Ali Ghanem, et al. Conversion Rate of Essential Tremor to Essential Tremor Parkinson DiseaseData From a Prospective Longitudinal Study. Neurology Clin Pract 2023; May 10

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