Essential tremor is a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary shaking and is the most common type of tremor. It can occur at any age, but is most common in adults, ages 40 and older. While essential tremor can affect almost any part of the body, it most often causes trembling in the hands.

Those with essential tremor may experience trembling or rhythmic shaking that is most notable when in motion as opposed to when at rest. Essential tremor can also lead to repetitive and uncontrollable nodding of the head or trembling in the voice or other parts of the body. Symptoms tend to worsen over time as the tremor starts to make everyday tasks difficult, especially if the tasks, such as eating, drinking and writing, are performed with the hands.

About half of essential tremor cases are believed to be caused by an inherited gene, which can be passed down from parent to child. However, other causes of essential tremor remain unknown.

Essential Tremor vs. Parkinson's Disease

Essential tremor is not associated with Parkinson's disease as there are distinct differences between the two conditions.

Essential tremor is more common and usually affects both sides of the body, predominantly affecting movement of the hands or arms, whereas Parkinson’s disease may first affect only one side of the body. 

While resting tremor is a common warning sign or symptom of Parkinson’s disease, there are many other neurological signs and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease that may be more prominent, such as slow movement, unsteady gait and stooped posture. Essential tremor, however, is primarily associated with frequent or repetitive trembling as the core symptom and generally does not lead to other problems. Additionally, essential tremor typically occurs when the hands or other affected body parts are in use; in Parkinson's disease, the tremor is more likely to occur when the affected body part is at rest.

While these characteristics tend to differentiate the two conditions, it is still recommended that you see a doctor to determine a diagnosis and decide which treatment option may be right for you, especially if your tremor makes it difficult to complete daily tasks.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment, it’s important to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing, any medications you’re taking and if you have a family history of tremors. Your doctor may perform a neurological examination and other tests to determine a diagnosis.

There are several medications and treatment options that can reduce the effects of essential tremor and improve your quality of life, including physical or occupational therapy, medications, deep brain stimulation and MR guided focused ultrasound. You can also manage your condition with minor lifestyle changes, such as avoiding caffeine and finding ways to reduce stress to decrease the severity of your tremor. Certain medications may also enhance the severity of your tremor, so ask your doctor if there are any medications you should avoid.

James’ Story: Deep Brain Stimulation for Essential Tremor

Watch how the team at Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences treats James’ symptoms of Essential Tremor with deep brain stimulation (DBS) to improve his quality of life.

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