Could my father's hand tremor be Parkinson's disease?

A fellow caregiver asked...

The other night during dinner with my parents, I noticed that my father's right hand was trembling a lot. It shook even when he wasn't doing anything with it. Could he have Parkinson's disease?

Expert Answer

Kelly E. Lyons is a research associate professor of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, and a member of the panel that authored the American Academy of Neurology's 2006 guidelines for treating advanced Parkinson's disease.

It's possible your father has Parkinson's disease, because a common early symptom is a tremor on one side of the body that occurs when the patient isn't trying to do anything. This is called a "resting" tremor, and it tends to go away when the patient starts doing things with the hand or leg that's shaky. Having a tremor like this warrants getting checked out by a neurologist or, preferably, a movement disorder specialist.

As part of the examination, the specialist will want to rule out other kinds of tremors, such as essential tremor, which generally starts out affecting both sides of the body. Essential tremor also occurs mostly during action: For instance, if a patient with essential tremor is trying to bring a cup to his mouth, it can be very difficult to do, because his hand is shaking.

To find a movement disorder specialist near you, go to the website of the National Parkinson Foundation or of WeMove.org . Both maintain an online directory of specialists that you can search.