Is Essential Tremor?
Essential tremor, also known as benign essential tremor, is a brain
disorder that causes a part of your body to shake uncontrollably. The unintentional
shaking motion is called a tremor. The hands and forearms are the most commonly
affected areas. However the following can also be affected:
In rare cases, tremors can occur in the legs and feet.
Other medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, can
cause tremors. With essential tremor, however, there’s no known underlying condition that triggers
the tremors. The tremors can begin at any age, but they most commonly
affect elderly people.
Essential tremor is a fairly common disorder, affecting
million people in the Unites States. It isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t
cause any serious health problems.
Are the Symptoms of Essential Tremor?
The tremors associated with essential tremor are small, rapid
movements. You may experience tremors constantly, frequently, or occasionally.
Both sides of your body may or may not be equally affected. Most people
experience tremors when they’re trying to do something, such as tying their
shoelaces. These tremors are known as “action tremors.” Other people may experience
tremors when they’re not doing anything. These are called “tremors at rest.”
Tremors can range from minor to severe. Your tremors may be so
minor that they don’t affect your everyday life, or they may be severe enough
to interfere with your normal activities.
The following are symptoms of essential tremor in different parts
of the body:
- You may experience noticeable shakiness in the
hands or arms when trying to do activities with your hands.
- Tremors in the head and neck can make your head
shake in an up-and-down or side-to-side motion.
- Parts of your face may appear to twitch, such as
- Tremors in the tongue or voice box can make your
voice sound shaky when you’re speaking.
- Tremors in your core, legs, and feet can cause
problems with balance. They can also make your gait, or the way you walk,
Certain factors may make your tremors temporarily worse,
- emotional stress
- very cold or very hot temperatures
- caffeinated drinks
- smoking cigarettes
Causes Essential Tremor?
Tremors can be caused by alcohol abuse, an overactive thyroid, a stroke,
and a variety of neurological conditions. However, these tremors are not characterized as essential
The exact cause of
essential tremor is unknown. Scientists haven’t found any absolute
genetic or environmental causes, and no cellular defect has been linked to the
condition. However, recent
research suggests that essential tremor may be triggered by changes in
certain areas of the brain. As with most medical conditions, research is
Are the Risk Factors for Essential Tremor?
People are at a higher risk of developing essential tremor if they’re
over age 40.
Genetics can also affect risk. Essential tremor may be inherited,
but it can also occur in people who don’t have a family history of the
condition. When there’s a family history of essential tremor, it’s called familial tremor. Your child has a 50
percent chance of developing essential tremor if you have the disorder.
Is Essential Tremor Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose essential tremor by observing the tremors and by
ruling out other causes. Your doctor may perform a physical exam to evaluate
the severity of your tremors. They might also perform certain imaging tests,
including CT and MRI scans, to determine whether you have an underlying
condition that’s causing your tremors, such as Parkinson’s disease.
Essential Tremor Treatable?
There’s no cure for essential tremor, but the progression of
symptoms is gradual and slow. There are also treatments that may help relieve
your symptoms. You may not need treatment if your symptoms are minor. Your
doctor will advise treatment if your symptoms are severe and interfering with
your normal activities. Treatment options include:
Medications for essential tremor include the following:
- Beta-blockers, such as propranolol
limit adrenaline and prevent tremors from getting worse
- Blood pressure medications, such as flunarizine,
- Anticonvulsant medications, such as primidone,
work to reduce the excitability of nerve cells.
- Mild tranquilizers, such as alprazolam,
are also a treatment option.
You can go to physical therapy to improve coordination and muscle
control. Botox injections can also be done in your hands to weaken the muscles
and minimize or stop shaking.
Surgery is done when other treatments fail to provide relief. It’s
a last resort. Surgical options include the following:
- Deep brain stimulation is a procedure in which
small electrodes are placed in the area of your brain that controls movement to
block the nerve signals that cause tremors.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery is a procedure in
which high-powered X-rays are pinpointed on a small area of the brain to
Is the Outlook for People with Essential Tremor?
Many people with essential tremor live normal lives. The famous
actress Katharine Hepburn led a successful career despite essential tremor that
affected her head and voice.
The severity of your tremors may stay relatively the same or may
get worse over time. The tremors might also spread to other areas of your body.
You may have to make some adjustments if your tremors are severe.
These changes may include:
- wearing slip-on shoes
- using a buttonhook to fasten buttons
- using straws to drink out of cups
- using an electric razor instead of a manual
Some research suggests
that people with essential tremor have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s
disease or sensory problems, such as a loss of smell or hearing. However, these
associations are still being investigated.