What Is Essential Tremor?

Essential tremor (ET) is a brain condition that causes uncontrollable shaking of the hands, head, and voice. In some cases, it can also cause your legs and trunk to shake. Also called benign essential tremor, ET is the most common of more than 20 types of tremor.

Initially, essential tremor is mild, but it can progress over time, starting on one side of the body but eventually affecting both sides. It can also severely affect your daily activities, making eating, dressing, writing, and other activities difficult.

Essential tremor is most common in people age 40 or over, but it can begin at an earlier age, sometimes even adolescence.

New Treatment for Essential Tremor

There is a new treatment option for essential tremor called focused ultrasound. This treatment uses high-intensity focused ultrasound that is guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to target specific tissue in the brain.

Essential Tremor Symptoms

The main symptom of essential tremor is uncontrollable shaking. This shaking is worse when attempting intentional movements with the affected limb. It could be:

  • Shaking that occurs in the hands first, one hand or both;
  • Voice shaking or head tremors;
  • Nodding head;
  • Shaking that worsens during emotional stress; or
  • Balance problems.

What Makes Tremor Worse?

You might trigger tremors or increase their severity with one of these things:

  • Heightened emotion
  • Stress
  • Fever
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Low blood sugar

Essential Tremor Causes

We don’t fully understand the causes of essential tremor, but specific parts of the brain show abnormal activity linked to the tremor. One specific area is the VIM nucleus of the thalamus, a small structure deep within the brain that coordinates and controls muscle activity. Silencing the VIM, whether with focused ultrasound, radiosurgery, or other treatments, can dramatically improve the tremor.

Treatments for Essential Tremor

Traditional treatments for ET include:

Hear From Our Patients

Mark Armstrong grew up in Colorado, where he spent his days hiking and fishing the lakes and streams. He eventually turned that love of fishing into a full-time job offering people guided fly fishing tours in Wyoming, where he lives today. Several years ago, he started to notice his hands shaking. At first, it wasn’t too bothersome, but it got progressively worse. Mark was diagnosed with essential tremor (ET), a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary shaking in your body.

Read Mark's Story

Mark Armstrong, essential tremor patient