What is essential tremor?

Essential tremor (ET) is a movement disorder characterized by uncontrollable shaking (tremors) in different parts and on different sides of the body. Areas affected often include the hands, arms, head, larynx (voice box), tongue, chin, and other areas. In rare cases, the lower body is affected.

What are the symptoms of essential tremor?

The main symptoms associated with essential tremor include:

  • Uncontrollable shaking that occurs for brief periods of time
  • A shaking voice
  • Nodding head
  • Tremors that worsen during periods of emotional stress
  • Tremors that worsen with purposeful movement
  • Tremors that lessen with rest
  • Balance problems, in rare cases

If it is not essential tremor, what could it be?

Tremors can be caused by a variety of other conditions or lifestyle factors. What differentiates them is the timing of the tremor. It is important to ascertain whether the tremors occur at rest, with sustained posture, or with certain movements.

  • Drugs. There are several drugs that can cause tremor:
    • Alcohol (chronic use)
    • Antiarrhythmic drugs (like Cordarone®, Procanbid®)
    • Tegretol® (a seizure drug, especially when combined with lithium)
    • Corticosteroids (like prednisone)
    • Cyclosporine
    • Lithium (especially when combined with an antidepressant)
    • Reglan®
    • Nicotine
    • Dilantin® (a seizure drug)
    • Cocaine
    • Albuterol (an asthma drug sold under the brand name Proventil® or Ventolin®)
    • Ritalin®
    • Sudafed®
    • Certain antidepressants like Paxil®, Prozac®, Zoloft®, Pamelor®, and others
  • Other causes:
    • Resting tremors can be caused by certain medications, Parkinson’s disease, or other conditions including multiple sclerosis and stroke.
    • Tremors that change with posture or movement can occur in people with low blood sugar, drug withdrawal, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke.

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