Essential tremor (ET) is a progressive neurological condition that causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands, head, or voice. ET is also known as familial tremor, benign essential tremor, and hereditary tremor. Essential tremor can be just as disabling as or confused with other movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or dystonia.
Because of social stigma and a lack of awareness around the condition, many people with ET never seek medical care, though most would benefit from treatment. The International Essential Tremor Foundation estimates that 10 million Americans suffer from the condition.
Everyone has some degree of tremor, but it’s often so small that it’s hardly noticeable. Only when it’s noticeable and starts to impact one’s quality of life is it diagnosed as essential tremor. Symptoms of ET include:
- Uncontrollable head nod
- Shaky voice
- Shaky hands
- Difficulty writing or using tools
- Tremors worsen when you move and ease up when you rest
- Caffeine and stress make the tremors worse
- Genetics. ET has a strong hereditary component; if your parent has ET, you have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that causes the condition. However, sometimes people with no family history of the condition develop ET.
- Age. ET can affect anyone at any age—even children—but it is most common in people 40 years and older.
How is essential tremor diagnosed and treated?
Essential tremor is diagnosed based on a comprehensive neurological exam by your doctor. Your doctor may also have you complete tasks such as writing or holding a cup to assess for tremors. To rule out other potential conditions causing the tremor, your doctor may order blood or urine tests.
There is no treatment for ET, but there are several ways to help manage symptoms:
There are few effective prescription medications available for treating ET. About 60% of people with ET respond well to one of the medications.
Since its FDA approval in 1997, deep brain stimulation (DBS) has dramatically changed the lives of patients with movement disorders. DBS is a minimally invasive neurosurgical treatment involving the implantation of a fine electrode wire and pulse generator, similar to a pacemaker. These devices stimulate the brain with mild electrical signals and reorganize the brain’s electrical impulses, producing significant improvements for those with uncontrollable tremors.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a minimally invasive technique that uses 3D imaging to target high doses of radiation to affected areas in the brain or spine. This type of surgery requires no incisions and has a minimal impact on the surrounding healthy tissue.
Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake and learning to effectively manage stress (e.g., through meditation, massage, or regular exercise) can help alleviate ET symptoms.
Why Choose NGPG?
NGPG Neuroscience employs a team of board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurointerventional surgeons, neuropsychiatrists, and other specialists who provide high-quality care and up-to-date treatments through our two outpatient Neurology office locations. For imaging and surgical care, we partner with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s expert neurosciences team and state-of-the-art facilities, ensuring patients have access to all the services of a leading hospital alongside our excellent outpatient care.
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