Skip to main content

Essential Tremor Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

6 min read

By Clarissa Vanner

Do parts of your body shake involuntarily? You might have a condition known as essential tremor disorder. This neurological disorder can cause involuntary and rhythmic shaking in the head, neck, torso, arms, and hands. It can be especially noticeable when performing simple tasks like drinking from a glass.

While the condition isn’t typically life-threatening it can become worse over time. To better understand essential tremor disorder, here’s what you need to know including the common symptoms, causes, and treatment options available.

What Is Essential Tremor Disorder?

Essential tremor disorder is a neurological condition that affects roughly 7 million individuals in the United States. The disorder causes parts of your body to shake uncontrollably and rhythmically. It most often affects the hands and forearms, however other areas of the body can be affected too, including the head, face, tongue, neck, and torso, says Healthline.

The source notes, in rare cases it can affect the legs and feet. While it’s not a life-threatening condition, involuntary shaking can interfere with daily activities. This is why it’s important to have an understanding of what it is and what you can do about it.

Common Symptoms of Essential Tremor Disorder

The telltale signs of this disorder are tremors which are small, rapid movements. Tremors can occur at any age, however, they are more common in older individuals.

The frequency in which you experience them will vary for every individual. Healthline says you can experience the tremors constantly, frequently, or occasionally. You may only experience them on one side of the body or both sides can be affected.

How Tremors Appear in Different Parts of the Body

Keep in mind, tremors can range from severe to minor and they can affect parts of your body differently. For example, tremors in the head and neck may make your head shake side to side or up and down. Whereas tremors in the face may cause twitching such as your eyelids.

Furthermore, tremors in the hands or arms can appear as noticeable shakiness when trying to perform certain activities. Tremors that occur in the tongue or voice box may make your voice sound shaky. Finally, tremors in the lower half of your body including your core, legs, and feet may cause issues with balance or the way you walk.

Factors That Make Symptoms Worse

The most common type of tremor is known as action tremors. These occur when performing certain activities such as tying your shoelaces. Some people may also experience tremors when doing nothing at all. If this occurs, it’s called tremors at rest, says Healthline.

Certain factors can also temporarily make your tremors worse such as fatigue or emotional stress. Being very hungry, drinking caffeinated drinks, or being in either very hot or cold climates can also increase your tremors.

Essential Tremor vs. Parkinson’s Disease: What’s The Difference?

Essential tremor disorder is often mistaken for Parkinson’s disease, however, there are some key differences between the two. “Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that causes problems with movement,” says Healthline. It also only affects about 1-percent of the population whereas essential tremor affects about 7 million individuals in the United States.

The timing of the tremors will differ too. In essential tremor disorder, the tremors most often occur when you use your hands, whereas in Parkinson’s the tremors are most prominent when the hands are resting. Further, essential tremor mostly involves the hands, head, and voice, whereas Parkinson’s typically involves the hands, legs, chin, and other areas of the body.

What Causes Essential Tremor Disorder?

The Mayo Clinic states, roughly half of essential tremor cases are linked to a genetic mutation. This is known as familial tremor. Unfortunately, the cause of essential tremor in individuals without this genetic mutation is unknown.

“However, recent research suggests that essential tremor may be triggered by changes in certain areas of the brain,” says Healthline. Research is still being done so perhaps one day there will be an answer to the cause.

Who’s at Risk?

Individuals who are 40-years old or older have a higher risk of developing essential tremors compared to younger individuals. A genetic mutation that causes familial tremors can also increase your risk.

The Mayo Clinic says, “If you have a parent with a genetic mutation for essential tremor, you have a 50 percent chance of developing the disorder yourself.” You only need to inherit the gene from one parent to pass on the condition, says the source.

When to See a Doctor

If you develop a tremor you should book an appointment with your doctor right away. Any new symptoms that develop warrant a check by the doctor. It’s also important to see your doctor to rule out other causes and to determine what is actually causing your tremors.

While essential tremor isn’t life-threatening, your symptoms can worsen over time and ultimately interfere with your day-to-day tasks. In time, holding a glass without spilling, or even eating normally can become a challenge. Writing legibly and talking can also become a challenge. So book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis. From there they can help you manage your symptoms.

Diagnosing Essential Tremor Disorder

To diagnose essential tremor disorder your doctor will start with a physical exam. They’ll begin by observing your tremors. Your doctor may be looking for other causes such as thyroid disease, side effects to medication you are taking, or too much caffeine, says WebMD.

Healthline points out that other tests may be necessary to rule out other underlying causes of the tremors. Some of these tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for essential tremor disorder. But the good news is that the progression of the symptoms is slow and gradual. You can also find comfort in knowing there are a variety of treatments available that can help relieve your symptoms.

If your symptoms are minor you may not need any treatment at all. However, if your symptoms interfere with your daily activities your doctor may recommend medication or other forms of treatment like therapy, or surgery.

Treatment: Physical Therapy and Surgery

If medication alone won’t help your symptoms, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help improve your muscle control and coordination. Healthline says, “Botox injections can also be done in your hands to weaken the muscles and minimize or stop shaking.”

Surgery is also an option but it’s often the last resort if other treatments fail to ease your symptoms. The two surgical options are stereotactic radiosurgery and brain stimulation. Talk to your doctor to find out which treatment option is best for you.

What Is the Outlook?

Since the exact cause of essential tremor disorder is unknown, there is no way to prevent it from happening. The good news is that many people with the disorder can still live normal lives. Healthline points out that the famous late actress Katharine Hepburn was able to have a successful career even though she had advanced essential tremor disorder that affected her voice, head, arms, and hands.

There are several lifestyle adjustments you can make to help make day-to-day tasks easier. For starters, wear slip-on shoes. Using a buttonhook to fasten buttons, and drinking out of a straw in a cup may also be helpful. You can also talk to your doctor for other recommendations to make daily life easier.

Junior Managing Editor

Clarissa is the Junior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat. She aspires to live a healthy lifestyle by staying active and eating foods that nourish her body, but she isn't afraid to indulge in a little chocolate here and there! Clarissa loves cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with her dog. In her free time, you'll find her relaxing in her hammock or curled up on the couch reading a book.

Your Health


What Do Your Blood Test Results Mean? A Toxicologist Explains the Basics of How to Interpret Them
By Brad Reisfeld Your Health

What Do Your Blood Test Results Mean? A Toxicologist Explains the Basics of How to Interpret Them

Your blood serves numerous roles to maintain your health. To carry out these functions, blood contains a multitude of components, including red blood cells that transport oxygen, nutrients and hormones; white blood cells that remove waste products and support the immune system; plasma that regulates temperature; and platelets that help with clotting. Within the blood […]

Read More about What Do Your Blood Test Results Mean? A Toxicologist Explains the Basics of How to Interpret Them

5 min read

Dietary Supplements and Protein Powders Fall Under a ‘Wild West’ of Unregulated Products That Necessitate Caveats And Caution
By Emily Hemendinger and Katie Suleta Your Health

Dietary Supplements and Protein Powders Fall Under a ‘Wild West’ of Unregulated Products That Necessitate Caveats And Caution

Dietary supplements are a big business. The industry made almost US$39 billion in revenue in 2022, and with very little regulation and oversight, it stands to keep growing. The marketing of dietary supplements has been quite effective, with 77% of Americans reporting feeling that the supplement industry is trustworthy. The idea of taking your health […]

Read More about Dietary Supplements and Protein Powders Fall Under a ‘Wild West’ of Unregulated Products That Necessitate Caveats And Caution

5 min read

Strep A Explainer: Why Invasive Cases Are Increasing, How It Spreads and What Symptoms to Look For
By John McCormick and Juan Manuel Diaz Your Health

Strep A Explainer: Why Invasive Cases Are Increasing, How It Spreads and What Symptoms to Look For

A jump in the number of people with serious illness caused by group A Streptococcus — also referred to as Streptococcus pyogenes or Strep A — has made headlines recently. There has also been a higher than usual number of deaths from group A Streptococcus infections, including in children, leaving people with questions about why […]

Read More about Strep A Explainer: Why Invasive Cases Are Increasing, How It Spreads and What Symptoms to Look For

4 min read