Benign essential tremor (ET) is a movement disorder most commonly noticed by shaking in the hands. It occurs in about 5% of older adults. It may also cause shaking of the head, voice, arms, and trunk. It occurs less often in the legs and feet. Two types of tremor are common with ET:
ET can be socially isolating in some cases. It may interfere with normal daily activities such as writing or speaking.
For some people, essential tremor is caused by a genetic mutation. For others, the cause is not clear.
A family history of tremors is the only known risk factor for essential tremor. The condition may occur at any age. It is more likely to occur in teens and people older than 50 years old.
Essential tremor (ET) is generally not serious, but its severity may vary and worsen over time. Symptoms may include:
Tremors must not be related to other health conditions in order for someone to have the ET diagnosis.
You will be asked about your symptoms and your medical and family history. A physical exam will be done. Attention will be paid to the central nervous system. There are no special tests to diagnose essential tremor.
Most people with essential tremor do not require treatment. Mild tremors may be relieved or even eliminated by simple measures, including:
The following treatment options may be helpful:
Benign essential tremor may be treated with:
Surgery may be an option in rare cases where tremors are disabling and medications do not help. Two approaches are possible.
There are no current guidelines to prevent benign essential tremor.
International Essential Tremor Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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Essential tremor. International Radiosurgery Support Association website. Available at:
http://www.irsa.org/essential_tremor.html. Accessed February 12, 2016.
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Last reviewed February 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
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