Essential Tremors | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

Essential Tremors

Overview and Facts about Essential Tremors

Essential tremor is a nerve disorder characterized by uncontrollable shaking that can affect different sides or different parts of the body. The areas that are most commonly affected include the head, arms, hands, chin, larynx, and tongue. The lower areas of the body are seldom affected.

Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder in the United States, currently affecting more than 10 million people.

Signs and Symptoms of Essential Tremors

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Brief periods of uncontrollable shaking
  • Voice tremors
  • Uncontrollable head nodding

Typically, tremors become worse during periods of stress and lessen during a period of rest. In rare cases, sufferers may also experience balance problems.

Causes and Risk Factors of Essential Tremor

The exact cause of essential tremor is unknown. Medical experts believe it may be linked to abnormal electrical activity in the brain’s thalamus. In around half of all cases of essential tremor, genetics plays a role. A child who has a parent suffering from essential tremor may inherit the gene, but may never experience any symptoms.

Although essential tremor is more common in elderly people and symptoms may worsen with age, this condition is not a natural part of aging.  

Tests and Diagnosis of Essential Tremors

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose essential tremor from your reported symptoms and a neurological examination. No other tests are used to diagnose this condition.

Treatment and Care for Essential Tremor

If the symptoms are mild, essential tremor may not require treatment. However, if the symptoms are impairing your ability to function, there are available treatments, including:

  • Medications: Oral prescription medications that can improve symptoms of essential tremor include topamax, inderal, neurontin and xanax. Botox may be an option in some cases
  • Focused high-intensity ultrasound: This involves the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to destroy areas of the thalamus with focused ultrasound. This type of treatment does not require general anesthesia
  • Surgery: A surgical treatment known as deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be an option if you have severe essential tremor that has resisted traditional therapies. During DBS, you will have electrical leads surgically implanted into your thalamus. These will be used to send electrical impulses to stimulate your brain