Benign essential tremor (ET) is a movement disorder most commonly noticed by shaking in the hands. It occurs in about 5% of older adults. It may also cause shaking of the head, voice, arms, and trunk. It occurs less often in the legs and feet. Two types of tremor are common with ET:
ET can be socially isolating in some cases. It may interfere with normal daily activities such as writing or speaking.
For some people, essential tremor is caused by a genetic mutation. For others, the cause is not clear.
A family history of tremors is the only known risk factor for essential tremor. The condition may occur at any age. It is more likely to occur in teens and people older than 50 years old.
Essential tremor (ET) is generally not serious, but its severity may vary and worsen over time. Symptoms may include:
Tremors must not be related to other health conditions in order for someone to have the ET diagnosis.
You will be asked about your symptoms and your medical and family history. A physical exam will be done. Attention will be paid to the central nervous system. There are no special tests to diagnose essential tremor.
Most people with essential tremor do not require treatment. Mild tremors may be relieved or even eliminated by simple measures, including:
The following treatment options may be helpful:
Benign essential tremor may be treated with:
Surgery may be an option in rare cases where tremors are disabling and medications do not help. Two approaches are possible.
International Essential Tremor Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
About essential tremor. International Essential Tremor Foundation website. Available at: http://essentialtremor.org/about-et. Accessed February 12, 2016.
Essential tremor. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116382/Essential-tremor. Updated March 11, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2016.
Muth C. Essential tremor. JAMA. 2016;316(20):2162. Available at: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2585981. Accessed January 4, 2017.
Essential tremor. International Radiosurgery Support Association website. Available at: http://www.irsa.org/essential_tremor.html. Accessed February 12, 2016.
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Xie T, Bernard J, Warnke P. Post subthalamic area deep brain stimulation for tremors: A mini review. Transl Neurodegener. 2012;1(1):20.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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