Essential Tremor

What is an Essential Tremor?

Essential tremor, also known as ET, is a neurological condition. It causes rhythmic trembling of the trunk, legs, head, hands, or voice. Some patients can also feel a shaking that is internal. It is sometimes confused with Parkinson’s disease, but ET is much more common.

This disorder isn’t life-threatening, and the majority of patients are able to lead normal lives. However, it can make simple activities, such as writing, getting dressed, and eating, harder. Severe tremors could cause disability.

The disorder is caused by abnormal electrical activity which propagates through the brain and affects the thalamus. Apart from genetics (a child whose parent is affected by this disease will have 50% more chance than the standard population to develop the condition), there are no other risk factors or any specific triggers that have been associated with ET yet.

What are the Symptoms of an Essential Tremor?

The symptoms that are caused by essential tremor include:

  • A shaky voice
  • A head that nods
  • Brief periods of uncontrollable shaking
  • Tremors that worsen with movement that is purposeful
  • Tremors that become worse during emotional stress
  • Tremors that decrease when at rest
  • Trouble balancing (though rare)

Essential Tremor Causes

Over fifty percent of essential tremor cases, also recognized as familial tremor, are caused by genetics. It’s an autosomal dominant disorder, needing only one parent to pass the mutated gene on to the offspring. Sometimes the child is a carrier with no trace of the condition. Instances where both parents are carriers of the inherited gene raise the risk of a child developing essential tremor.

Age is another aspect causing this second most common movement disorder. Electrical fluctuations in brain signals can prompt a tremor, instigating a loss of muscle control. Illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors and lifestyle patterns of alcohol and drugs can bring about the shaking with a loss of balance.

The tremor starts with basic movements involving the upper limbs, advancing to the head, tongue, voice and the lower limbs. Depending on the individual’s health status, the condition will worsen with fatigue, stress and stimulant medications.

How is an Essential Tremor Treated?

If the condition is mild, treatment may not be required. If the condition interferes with daily life, however, treatment options are available to improve symptoms.

Treatment includes

There are several medications that can greatly decrease the severity of this disorder. Those medications include Mysoline, Neurontin, Topamax, and Inderal. Tranquilizers, such as Valium, Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin, may also be prescribed. Also, Botox injections might help ease head and vocal tremors.

Those with severe essential tremor may need to have a surgery called deep brain stimulation, or DBS. During this procedure, electrical leads are implanted into the patient’s thalamus, which is an area of the brain that is responsible for coordinating muscle control.

Since experts don’t know what causes essential tremor, there is no way to prevent it, and there is no cure.

Essential Tremor Prevention

Lifestyle changes can prevent essential tremor episodes, such as liminating caffeine and alcohol from your diet; learning to de-stress, and getting enough rest contribute to preventing this disorder. If you are dealing with any form of uncontrollable shaking or loss of muscle control, you need to talk with your doctor at once.

If you are a parent carrier, you need to understand this disorder and follow the steps necessary to prevent any incidents in your own life as you age. Be sure to educate your children on the genetic complications linked to this affliction. Meet with your doctor and discuss the family history of the disease, gathering as much information as possible to determine a pattern of outbreaks.

A thorough examination and assessment by your doctor will determine an accurate diagnosis. Depending on the severity, it may warrant physical therapy or medication.

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Last Reviewed:
October 05, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017