Close to 10 million adults in the United States experience essential tremor, which is a hereditary neurological movement condition. While the causes of essential tremor are unknown, some experts believe that essential tremor is tied to the area of the brain known as the cerebellum, which controls muscle coordination. If your parent has essential tremor, you have a 50% chance of developing the movement disorder.
Essential tremor is characterized by uncontrollable shaking movements. Essential tremors show up most frequently in the hand, head, and eyes, although they can occur anywhere throughout the body. The condition most frequently affects people who are 65 and older, but it can occur in younger adults. Essential tremor can be mistaken for Parkinson’s disease if it is not properly diagnosed.
FAQs About Essential Tremor
Continue reading below to learn more about essential tremor, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information you are interested in:
- What are the symptoms of essential tremor?
- How is essential tremor diagnosed?
- What is the difference between essential tremor vs. Parkinson's disease?
- How is essential tremor treated?
- Can I treat essential tremor at home?
- What are examples of essential tremor treatment exercises?
- Is there a cure for essential tremor?
- When should I see a specialist for my essential tremor?
What are the symptoms of essential tremor?
Essential tremor is most likely to be noticed first in the hands. People with essential tremor may have difficulties holding or using small objects such as silverware. This movement disorder most often involves small, rapid movements—five or more per second. Tremors may occur more frequently when you move and may be more difficult to notice when resting. In many cases, tremors do not affect both sides of the body in the same way.
Signs of essential tremor include:
- Head nodding
- Shaking or quivering voice sounds
- Difficulty writing, drawing, drinking from a cup, or using tools
Essential tremor is a condition in which tremors tend to get worse with age. Tremors also can worsen with caffeine, certain medications, fatigue, or stress.
How is essential tremor diagnosed?
Essential tremor is typically diagnosed through a thorough physical exam and medical history. Your physician may order further tests to rule out other causes of tremors (medication side effects, caffeine, alcohol withdrawal, etc). You may also be asked to keep a daily journal to track your habits, eating and drinking consumption, and tremors in order to pinpoint any triggers that may make your tremors worse, and to rule out any medical conditions. Your healthcare provider may order blood tests and imaging tests to better diagnose essential tremor.
What is the difference between essential tremor vs. Parkinson's disease?
Essential tremor vs. Parkinson’s disease have several noticeable differences. Essential tremor symptoms are more pronounced during activity, whereas Parkinson’s tremors tend to occur more regularly at rest. Essential tremor is typically only associated with tremors, while Parkinson’s disease generally includes tremors along with rigidity, problems walking, and issues with balance.
The amplitude (intensity and strength) and frequency of tremors also differ between essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. Essential tremor symptoms tend to be of a lower amplitude with a higher frequency, and Parkinson’s disease tremors are more often higher amplitude with lower frequency.
Essential tremor is most often tied to a family history, and Parkinson’s disease is rarely tied to family history. Essential tremor is roughly 10 times more common in the U.S. than Parkinson’s disease.
Another interesting difference is that alcohol may improve tremors for essential tremor patients but tends to have no effect on tremors of Parkinson’s patients.
A complete comparison of essential tremor vs. Parkinson’s can be found in this download by the International Essential Tremor Foundation.
How is essential tremor treated?
There are several treatment options if you are experiencing heavy symptoms of essential tremor. Treatment frequently begins with medication therapy using beta-blockers, anti-seizure medications, tranquilizers, or Botox injections. A physical therapy regimen also may help improve coordination, muscle control, and function.
When essential tremor decreases your daily quality of life or severe tremors have not improved with other treatments, surgery like deep brain stimulation for essential tremor may be an option.
Can I treat essential tremor at home?
Essential tremor impacts every patient differently. You may find that your essential tremor does not impact your life enough to seek treatment. You may also find that lifestyle modifications may provide relief for your tremors.
Whether you are working with your physician, a neurologist, or are treating your essential tremor at home, the following may help improve your symptoms:
- Adopting relaxation techniques like deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or biofeedback
- Avoiding stressful situations and/or caffeine
- Integrating essential tremor treatment exercises and other physical activity like resistance training, balance activities, and stretching activities under the guidance of a healthcare provider
- Changing or stopping medication – only after consulting with your physician
- Following a set sleep schedule
- Using products that make everyday tasks easier, like:
- Clothes with Velcro fasteners
- Button hooks
- Kitchen utensils with larger handles
- Drinking straws
- Slip-on shoes
What are examples of essential tremor treatment exercises?
If you have essential tremor, you may benefit from relaxation exercises like yoga, breathing exercises, or Tai Chi. These exercises reduce stress and can improve quality of life. Research also shows that strength training, also referred to as resistance training, may help improve symptoms of essential tremor and maintain your manual dexterity.
Is there a cure for essential tremor?
There is not a cure for essential tremor but most patients can effectively manage their symptoms with treatment. Because essential tremor is not life-threatening, it is often referred to as benign essential tremor. The condition is a progressive disorder, meaning that symptoms typically get worse over time.
When should I see a specialist for my essential tremor?
You should consider consulting an essential tremor expert if you feel like your essential tremor symptoms are not improving with your current line of treatment, or if you would like a second opinion about your essential tremor treatment options.
Our essential tremor experts at Neurosurgery One would be happy to review your case and make recommendations on effective essential tremor treatment options.
When essential tremor impacts daily quality of life or severe tremors have not improved with other treatments, deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be recommended. Approved by the FDA for essential tremor in 1997, DBS has helped more than 100,000 people better control their tremors. Typically recommended for those who have failed medications or for patients whose tremors cause extreme quality of life interference, DBS has been shown to effectively suppress essential tremor for more than six years after implantation.