Benign Essential Tremor
(Essential Tremor; Familial Tremor)
Benign essential tremor (ET) is a movement disorder that results in shaking that a person cannot control. It can affect any part of the body, but it is most common in the hands.
The cause is not known. Genes may play a role.
It is more common in people who are 60 years of age and older. It is also more common in people with a family history of ET.
ET is not serious, but it does get worse over time. Symptoms may include:
- Uncontrolled shaking in the hands, arms, head, jaw, legs, or trunk
- Changes in volume and smoothness when speaking
- Tremors that make it hard to do things like write, eat, and drink
Problems may be worse when a person is under stress, upset, or sick.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam may also be done. The doctor will be able to see the tremor. This is enough information to make the diagnosis.
There is no cure. The goal is to manage symptoms. This can be done with lifestyle changes, such as:
- Limiting stress
- Avoiding things that trigger tremors, such as caffeine
- Getting enough rest
Other choices are:
Occupational and physical therapy may be needed. This can help find ways to adapt to tremors, such as making changes during meals or using special tools.
Some medicines may make tremors worse. These may need to be stopped or changed. The doctor may also advise medicines to ease symptoms, such as:
- Antiseizure medications
- Antipsychotic medication
- Botulinum toxin type A injections
Surgery may be an option for people who are not helped by other methods. There are two methods:
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS)—sends painless electrical pulses to the brain, interrupting faulty signals
- Thalamotomy—destroys a tiny part of the brain (less common)
There are no current guidelines to prevent ET.
International Essential Tremor Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
About essential tremor. International Essential Tremor Foundation website. Available at: http://essentialtremor.org/about-et. Accessed February 21, 2018.
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Essential tremor. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/essential-tremor. Updated July 17, 2019. Accessed April 8, 2020.
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3/7/2018 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttps://www.dynamed.com/condition/essential-tremor: Crawford P, Zimmerman EE. Tremor: sorting through the differential diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(3):180-186. Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0201/p180.html.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 4/8/2020