Tremors – involuntary, rhythmic shaking movements in one or more parts of the body – are extremely common in older adults. There are actually several different types of tremor classified by underlying causes and how the tremors present. In this post, we’ll explain what you need to know about the most common type: essential tremors.
What are Essential Tremors?
An essential tremor causes parts of your body to shake or tremble when you try to use them. This is what’s known as an “action tremor,” meaning that it only occurs with the voluntary movement of a muscle (such as gripping a pen or holding your arm outstretched) and stops when the muscle is at rest. Essential tremors most commonly affect the hands but can also affect other parts of the body.
Essential tremors are the most common form of tremor and one of the most common movement disorders, affecting about 5% of people over age 60 worldwide. Their exact cause is unknown, but some research suggests that the cerebellum (the part of the brain responsible for muscle coordination) and other parts of the brain may not be communicating with each other correctly in people with essential tremors.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Essential Tremors
For some people an essential tremor is mild and remains stable for many years. Unfortunately, the tremor usually intensifies over time. That’s why it’s important to get a professional diagnosis and treatment plan to prevent the tremor from interfering with your activities of daily living.
There is no medical test that can confirm whether a person has an essential tremor. Instead, diagnosis comes from ruling out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will start with a physical examination of your symptoms, as well as a review your medical and family history (essential tremors can be passed down genetically, in which case, your doctor may refer to it as a familial tremor). They may also order blood tests and imaging scans to rule out underlying conditions that can cause tremors, such as hyperthyroidism.
In and of itself, an essential tremor is not a dangerous condition and may not need any treatment. However, if the tremor impedes your activities of daily living, your doctor may prescribe drugs such as beta-blockers or anti-seizure medications to reduce the intensity of the tremors. There are also many second-line treatments including nerve stimulation therapy, Botox, implantable devices, and surgical interventions.
Talk with your health care provider about these and other options, including lifestyle changes, if essential tremors start to affect your quality of life – or if you develop new neurologic symptoms, such as numbness or weakness.