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Essential Tremor Disorder

Essential tremor disorder is a nerve disorder. It is also called a trembling disorder. It causes a person’s hands, head, trunk, voice, or legs to shake rhythmically. It’s often confused with Parkinson disease.

A tremor can also be a symptom of another disease or condition. So it’s important to see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Who is likely to get essential tremor?

Everyone has some essential tremor. But these movements usually can’t be seen or felt. It’s called essential tremor when the movements can be noticed.

Essential tremor is most common in people older than 65. But it can affect people at any age. The condition seems to run in families.

For some people, essential tremor is mild and never gets any worse. For other people, it starts on one side of the body and eventually affects both sides. The hands are the most common part of the body affected. Some people also have changes in the way they walk (gait).

Doctors don’t know what causes essential tremor. One theory is that in people with the disorder the cerebellum and certain other parts of the brain don’t talk to each other as they should. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination.

What are the symptoms of essential tremor?

People with essential tremor have shaking and trembling at different times and in different cases. But some symptoms are common to all. Here are symptoms you might have:

  • Tremors occur when you move and are less noticeable when you rest.

  • Tremors get worse when you take certain medicines.

  • Tremors get worse after you have caffeine or when you are stressed.

  • Tremors get worse as you get older.

  • Tremors don’t affect both sides of the body in the same way.

Here are different signs of essential tremor:

  • Tremors that are most noticeable in your hands

  • Difficulty doing things with your hands, such as writing or using tools

  • Shaking or quivering in your voice

  • Head-nodding that you can’t control

In rare instances, you may have tremors in your legs or feet.

How is essential tremor diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask you questions about your medical and family history. He or she will also look at your trembling symptoms. Your provider will probably need to rule out other conditions that could cause the shaking or trembling. For example, tremors can be symptoms of diseases like hyperthyroidism or Parkinson disease. Your provider might also test you for these diseases.

In some cases, the tremors might be related to other factors. To find out for sure, your provider may have you:

  • Not drink alcohol. In people who are alcoholics, trembling is a common symptom.

  • Stop smoking.

  • Avoid caffeine.

  • Avoid certain medicines.

How is essential tremor treated?

Essential tremor usually isn’t dangerous, but it can be frustrating if you have it. Several medicines are available to treat essential tremor. Some affect how brain nerves work. This can calm your trembling. Sometimes antiseizure medicines are prescribed. Tranquilizers are other medicines that may be given for essential tremor.

For severe tremors, your health care provider may suggest that a stimulating device be implanted in your brain.

Can I prevent essential tremor?

Alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and stress all seem to make tremors worse. Staying away from these things as much as possible can help. Some drugs can also make trembling worse. Ask your health care provider if any of your medications might be playing a role.

Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Online Medical Reviewer: Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ziegler, Olivia Walton, MS, PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 8/25/2014
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