Essential Tremors

By:    Published: July 19, 2012

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Tremors can affect individuals of any age, sex or race. There are many different types of tremors that can occur, including essential tremors. Learn more about what causes essential tremors and how they can be treated.

Definition

A tremor is defined as involuntary shaking marked by rhythmic movements. Many tremors are caused by an underlying health condition. However, essential tremors are a very specific type of tremor in that there is no apparent cause. Essential tremors are the most common type of tremor. An essential tremor can occur in just about any part of the body, including the head and the voice. However, it occurs most often in the hands.

Symptoms

The specific signs of essential tremors may vary depending on which part of the body the tremors are affecting. For example, those with essential tremors in their head often exhibit head nodding, while those with voice tremors have a shaking or quivering sound to their voice. Meanwhile, those with hand tremors tend to have trouble holding onto objects and may have trouble writing.

There are several characteristics that are found in most essential tremors, including:

  • Beginning gradually
  • Worsening over time
  • Worsening with caffeine, fatigue or stress
  • Worsening with certain medications
  • Not affecting both sides of the body in the same way
  • Occurring when movement in the affected body part takes place
  • Subsiding or becoming less noticeable when the affected body part is at rest

In some cases, the presence of essential tremors may be confused with Parkinson’s disease. However, there are certain differences in the way Parkinson’s tremors and essential tremors occur. For example, while essential tremors are usually triggered by movement, Parkinson’s tremors tend to occur when the body is at rest. In addition, Parkinson’s tremors tend to affect the hands but not the voice or the head, and essential tremors don’t cause other health problems the way that Parkinson’s disease can.

Causes And Risk Factors

In about half of the cases of essential tremors, the cause appears to be a certain genetic mutation. However, this type of tremor can also occur in individuals who do not display a genetic mutation of this kind. In these instances, there is no known cause for the tremors.

While there may not be a clear cause for essential tremors in every case, there are certain factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing these tremors. These risk factors include:

  • Age: Essential tremors are more common in older individuals. In fact, many people develop essential tremors in early middle age. However, it’s still possible for older or younger individuals to develop essential tremors.
  • Genetic mutation: Having a defective gene may cause essential tremors. If you have one parent with a genetic mutation for essential tremors, you have a 50 percent chance of developing these tremors.

Prevention

Because the cause of essential tremors isn’t clear, there isn’t a definite way to prevent them. However, you can try to reduce the frequency of these tremors by avoiding smoking, too much caffeine and too much alcohol. Others may find that their medications exacerbate their tremors and that switching to a different drug helps to lessen or prevent them in some cases. (To learn more about the possible side effects of too much caffeine aside from tremors, read 10 Possible Side Effects Of Too Much Caffeine In Your Diet.)

Treatment

Treatment for essential tremors is generally unnecessary in the case of mild tremors that don’t interfere with an individual’s daily activities or personal well-being. However, those with more severe or disabling essential tremors may be prescribed medications for their condition. Medications used to treat essential tremors include:

  • Beta blockers
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Tranquilizers
  • Calcium-channel blockers
  • Botox injections

It’s important to note that some of these drugs may cause side effects like fatigue, slow heart beat, stuffy nose, nausea and balance or coordination problems. Discuss medications options with your doctor in detail before deciding to use a certain drug to treat essential tremors.

Physical therapy may also help to treat essential tremors. Certain exercises may improve muscle coordination and control to the point that tremors are reduced. For example, a person with hand tremors may use wrist weights or wider writing implements to strengthen the muscles in their hands.

Essential tremors may potentially be treated with surgery. These surgeries include quite serious procedures, such as implanting a stimulating device in the brain or focusing high-powered x-rays on a portion of the brain. For these reasons, this type of treatment is normally reserved for the most severe cases of essential tremors.

There are also some experimental treatments for essential tremors. Though these have not been proven to be effective through scientific studies, some people have found success in treating essential tremors massage, acupuncture, hypnosis and biofeedback. Talk to your doctor if you are considering any of these treatment options for your tremors.

Bottom Line

For most people, essential tremors aren’t a significant health issue. However, it’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any type of tremor to rule out other health problems which may be causing the condition.

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