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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Essential tremor

*

* Not a rare disease

Other Names for this Disease

  • Benign essential tremor
  • Familial essential tremor
  • Hereditary essential tremor
  • Presenile tremor syndrome
  • Tremor, hereditary essential, 1
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

I have a relative who has essential tremor. How might this condition affect the activities of daily living? Are there ways to manage the symptoms?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is essential tremor?

Essential tremor is a disorder of the nervous system that causes involuntary, rhythmic shaking (tremor), especially in the hands. It involves tremor without any other signs or symptoms, and is distinguished from tremor that results from other disorders or known causes, such as tremors seen with Parkinson disease or head trauma.[1] Essential tremor (sometimes called benign essential tremor) is the most common of the more than 20 types of tremor.[2] The causes of essential tremor are unknown. Several genes as well as environmental factors likely play a role in a person's risk of developing this complex condition.[1] In mild cases, treatment may not be necessary. In cases where symptoms interfere with daily living, medications may help to relieve symptoms.[3] 

 

Last updated: 9/12/2014

What causes essential tremor?

The causes of essential tremor are unknown. Researchers are studying several areas (loci) on particular chromosomes that may be linked to essential tremor, but no specific genetic associations have been confirmed. Several genes, as well as environmental factors, are likely involved in an individual's risk of developing this complex condition.[1] 
Last updated: 9/12/2014

Can the symptoms of essential tremor interfere with the activities of daily life?

Although essential tremor is not life-threatening, it can make it harder to perform daily tasks and is embarrassing to some people.[1][2][4] Hand tremor is most common but the head, arms, voice, tongue, legs, and trunk may also be involved. Although it may be mild and nonprogressive in some people, in others the tremor is slowly progressive, starting on one side of the body but eventually affecting both sides.  Tremor frequency may decrease as a person ages, but the severity may increase, affecting the person's ability to perform certain tasks or activities of daily living. In many people the tremor may be mild throughout life.[2]

If severe, essential tremor may interfere with fine motor skills used to do simple tasks like holding eating utensils, drinking a glass of water, tying shoelaces, writing, sewing, shaving, or applying makeup.[1][2][3][4] Sometimes the tremors affect the voicebox, which occasionally leads to speech problems.[3][4]

The symptoms of essential tremor may be aggravated by emotional stress, fever, fatigue, hunger (low blood sugar), caffeine, cigarette smoking, or extremes of temperature.[1][2] 

Last updated: 5/6/2013

How might essential tremor be treated?

Treatment for essential tremor may not be necessary unless the tremors interfere with daily activities or cause embarrassment.[3] Although there is no definitive cure for essential tremor, medicines may help relieve symptoms.[2][3] How well medicines work depend on the individual patient.[3] Two medications used to treat tremors include:[2][3]
  • Propranolol, a drug that blocks the action of stimulating substances called neurotransmitters, particularly those related to adrenaline
  • Primidone, an antiseizure drug that also control the function of some neurotransmitters

These drugs can have significant side effects.[3]

Eliminating tremor "triggers" such as caffeine and other stimulants from the diet is often recommended. Physical therapy may help to reduce tremor and improve coordination and muscle control for some patients.[2]
 
More details about the management of essential tremor can be accessed through the following web links:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/essential-tremor/DS00367/METHOD=print&DSECTION=all 
http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1150290-treatment

Last updated: 9/12/2014

References
Other Names for this Disease
  • Benign essential tremor
  • Familial essential tremor
  • Hereditary essential tremor
  • Presenile tremor syndrome
  • Tremor, hereditary essential, 1
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.