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What is Essential Tremor

Updated on June 29, 2012

Essential Tremor is a neurological disorder characterized by shaking of the hands and head. It can also affect shaking of the voice and sometimes shaking of the trunk and legs.

Essential Tremor is not considered life-threatening, although it can be quite debilitating to the point where a person can not feed or bathe themselves. Essential tremor may start out mild and can be mild for many years. But it tends to worsen with age.

It is estimated that 10 million Americans have Essential tremor (or ET). For people over 65, the percentage of that group with Essential tremor can be as high as 5%.

Essential tremor has a hereditary component. So far, the LINGO1 gene has been found to be associated with increased risk for Essential Tremors.

Essential Tremor is Sometimes Misdiagnosed

Sometimes essential tremor is misdiagnosed as Parkinson's or dystonia. Some difference between essential tremor and Parkinson is that shaking of the head and voice is more common with Essential Tremor than with Parkinson. Handwriting sample is used to determine the difference between the two. With Essential Tremor, the handwriting is large and shaky. With Parkinson's, the handwriting starts normal and then becomes smaller and smaller.

Dystonia is when muscles do not relax when not in use, causing abnormal posture.

At the time of this writing, there is no lab test or biological marker to definitively diagnosis essential tremor. Diagnosis is done based on physician's careful examination and history.

Essential Tremor Treatments

Tremors can more more apparent when the person is active or have anxiety. As such, some beta-blockers, anti-anxiety, and anti-epileptic medications may be prescribed by physicians. Stress reduction can also help with tremors.

A few people have done brain surgery to implant a "brain pacemaker" to perform deep brain stimulation. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) have been used for conditions such as Essential Tremor, Parkinson's Disease, dystonia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Essential Tremor Resources

You can find some coping tips at International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF).

In one of his podcasts, Chris Kresser answers a listener question about Essential Tremors where he mentions some nutritional suggestions such as ketogenic diets and avoiding gluten.

Other resources includes ...
Movement Disorder Society


Article was written May 2011 and is opinion at the time of writing. Content is for general education purpose and is not for medical diagnosis or advice. Author is not a medical professional.


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