Essential Tremor

Condition Basics

What is essential tremor?

Essential tremor is a movement disorder. It's a type of shaking that you can't control. It may start in the hand or fingers. The shaking may increase or spread to other parts of the body over time. Essential tremor doesn't cause other health problems, but it can make work or other activities more difficult.

What causes it?

There is no known cause of essential tremor. But the shaking may be caused by changes in certain parts of your brain. It's more common if one or both of your parents had it. This type of tremor is not related to a stroke or Parkinson's disease.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is small shakes (tremors) that you can't control. It is usually on both sides of your body. It often starts in the hands but can be in the arms, head, or torso. It can make your voice shaky. It happens when trying to use the affected body part.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no one test to diagnose essential tremor. Your doctor may ask about your family history and how long you've had the shaking. Your doctor will watch how you move and check your muscle strength and reflexes. You may have lab or imaging tests to see if something else is causing it.

How is essential tremor treated?

There are some medicines, such as beta-blockers or anticonvulsants, that may help reduce tremors. Treatment may include physical therapy. This can help improve your strength and balance. Treatment may also include occupational therapy. This can help you learn to do your daily activities more easily. Surgery may be an option for some people.

Some people may not need treatment. If your tremors are causing problems for you, you can choose to get treatment.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. Some medicines that help control tremors have to be taken every day, even if you are not having tremors. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Try to reduce stress. Regular exercise and massages may help.
  • Avoid drinks or foods with caffeine if they make your tremors worse. These include tea, cola, coffee, and chocolate.
  • Wear a heavy bracelet or watch. This adds a little weight to your hand. The extra weight may reduce tremors.
  • Drink from cups or glasses that are only half full. You may also want to try drinking with a straw.

Credits

Current as of: December 13, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
G. Frederick Wooten MD - Neurology

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This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.