How Exactly Does Essential Tremor Work?

Despite its prevalence as the most common movement disorder, many individuals are unaware of essential tremor’s existence and symptoms. As a result, it often gets confused with other movement disorders like Parkinson’s. While essential tremor is not a degenerative disorder like Parkinson’s, the hand-shaking symptoms can still be a source of stress for those who experience them. And the lack of open discussion about essential tremor causes and symptoms can add an extra level of anxiety when it comes to managing and treating the condition. Those with essential tremor may ask: what, exactly, is causing my hands or head to shake?

What is essential tremor?

Essential tremor is an action tremor, meaning that shaking is most severe when you’re using your hands—such as while eating, drinking, applying makeup, or writing. While it most commonly affects the hands, some people also experience shaking of the head or voice. At first, tremors can be mild and intermittent and then grow more persistent and severe over time. The tremor is often worsened by triggers like fatigue, stress, or stimulants.

What causes essential tremor?

The cause of essential tremor is neurological. Abnormal electrical fluctuations in the brain can send the wrong signals to the muscles, causing them to shake. The thalamus has been the key area of the brain targeted for treatments such as Gamma Knife and MR-Guided Focused Ultrasound. These treatments interrupt the abnormal signal’s path through the thalamus, decreasing the severity of the tremor for many patients.

Also, there’s a hereditary link to essential tremor. Those with the condition often have a family member who has experienced tremors. This has caused essential tremor to sometimes be referred to as a “familial tremor.”

Essential tremor is common, and many who experience it have found ways to live with it. Knowing essential tremor causes is one step toward understanding and managing the symptoms. However, for some individuals, the severity of the tremor can complicate daily tasks enough for them to feel as though they lack autonomy. There are treatment options available to help manage symptoms, ranging from medication to surgery. If you or a loved one are struggling with essential tremor, please contact the Essential Tremor Education Center at 844-NO-TREMOR to learn more about essential tremor and possible treatment options.