Defining Essential Tremor

May 23, 2018

The brain and how it interacts with the nerves is what defines Essential Tremor as a condition and disease. Essential Tremor is a nerve disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking in different parts of the body, usually affecting the upper body. The condition is not understood entirely, but it is thought that abnormal activity in the brain causes the tremors. Genetics play a role in the condition so much so that a child born to parents that have Essential Tremor has up to 50% chance of inheriting the gene, but may never experience actual symptoms.

The most common areas that are affected are the hands, arms, head, voice box, tongue and chin. Symptoms that define Essential Tremor include shaking when doing tasks such as writing, tying your shoelaces and other simple everyday activities. Symptoms may worsen when an individual is stressed, tired, consumes caffeine or even when weather/ the temperature changes. Essential Tremor is not life threatening, and people are able to live very normal lives with the condition. Everyday activities may become more difficult with Essential Tremor, but only if the tremors become extremely severe does the sufferer find themselves disabled.

When we define Essential Tremor, it is important to remember that the condition is in fact different from Parkinson’s and other conditions where rhythmic shaking may occur. Essential Tremor requires a medical diagnosis and can last for years of be a lifelong condition. There is no specific blood, urine or other physical test to diagnose Essential Tremor besides the symptoms themselves and a complete neurological exam.

Most individuals affected by Essential Tremor are 60 years of age or older, with few cases of young adults or children being affected by the condition. Symptoms can become more pronounced with age, but it is not a condition that is part of the natural aging process and not all elderly persons will have it. Up to 10 million people have Essential Tremor, which renders it the most common movement disorder in the US. Many different movement disorders and factors can cause similar symptoms, which can make Essential Tremor harder to diagnose.

There is no medication that is currently available that will make tremors go away completely. Some people are helped by current medications and remedies. Studies are being conducted to find more effective treatments for ET and one of the possibilities is DBS or deep brain stimulation. The mainstay medications that are used to help manage ET are beta adrenergic blockers and anti-seizure medication such as Primidone. Since tremors can worsen based on factors such as stress and anxiety, non-medical relaxation techniques and biofeedback can help some people manage their ET symptoms and their tremors.

Surgical methods for patients that do not achieve control of their tremors with other therapies are available. Placing a lesion in the Thalamus in the brain has been used to treat Essential Tremor for decades, as well as DBS as mentioned earlier. Other surgical methods are being tested for effectiveness and treatment of ET.