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Essential Tremor

What is Essential Tremor?

Essential tremor is a movement disorder, meaning it affects parts of the brain that control body movement (motor function).

The tremor, or involuntary shaking, is very rapid, generally more than five times a second.

Essential tremor is the most common type of tremor and is mainly found in people over age 65. An Eessential tremor is not dangerous or life-threatening, but it can be annoying and embarrassing for many people.

In some cases, it may be dramatic enough to interfere with:

  • Writing
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Speaking

Several treatment options can help control symptoms of essential tremor. People whose symptoms have not responded well to medication alone may be candidates for deep brain stimulation at UPMC.

Causes of essential tremor

The cause of essential tremor has not been identified, but the condition is often a symptom of other disorders, such as:

Essential tremor might be caused by abnormal electrical fluctuations in the brain. These fluctuations send incorrect signals to the muscles, causing the body to contract.

There are several regions of the brain linked to essential tumor, including the cerebellum, globus pallidus, thalamus, and cortex.

Genetics may be one a factor in the development of essential tremors. This disorder is more common in the elderly and tends to become more pronounced with age. An essential tremor is not dangerous or life-threatening, but it can be annoying and embarrassing for many people.

Treating essential tremors

Several treatment options can help control symptoms of essential tremor. People whose symptoms have not responded well to medication alone may be candidates for deep brain stimulation at UPMC.

Essential Tremor Symptoms and Diagnosis

The involuntary shaking of essential tremor is generally small, rapid motions that occur more than five times per second.

It is most commonly noticed in the hands, but it may also affect your:

  • Arms
  • Eyelids
  • Head
  • Other muscles

Essential tremor is very rare in the legs and feet. The tremors may not affect both sides of your body the same way.

Essential tremor symptoms

To diagnose essential tremor, your doctor will ask for your medical history and perform a physical exam, looking for specific essential tremor symptoms such as:

  • Problems holding or using small objects, such as pencils or cups
  • Head nodding
  • Shaking or quivering voice
  • Tremors during movement that go away when you rest
  • Worse tremors after taking medications, caffeine, or during stressful times
  • Worse tremors as you age

Testing to diagnose essential tremor

In general, essential tremor does not affect coordination or mental function.

Blood tests and imaging studies, such as MRI and CT scans, usually show no problems.

Essential Tremor Treatments

Essential tremor, like many movement disorders, can be treated but not cured.

Treatment options depend on:

  • The severity of symptoms 
  • Condition of the person

Essential tremor treatment may not be needed unless tremors and their symptoms are interfering with daily life or causing embarrassment.

Experts at UPMC offer many state-of-the-art treatments to alleviate the symptoms of movement disorders and allow patients to lead fuller and more independent lives.

Essential tremor medication

Essential tremor medications commonly used to alleviate tremors are:

  • Beta blockers
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Mild tranquilizers
  • Calcium-channel blockers (to reduce blood pressure)

Your doctors will work closely with you to monitor your response to medication and any side effects.

Deep brain stimulation

UPMC is a leader in treating movement disorders such as essential tremor with deep brain stimulation, and now offers both standard and MRI-guided asleep DBS, depending on your condition.

Deep brain stimulation delivers electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the neuronal signals that cause abnormal movement. DBS gives significant benefit in 80-90 percent of people who undergo the procedure for essential tremor.

Gamma Knife® radiosurgery

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a painless procedure that uses hundreds of highly focused radiation beams to target deep brain regions to create precise functional lesions within the brain, with no surgical incision. Gamma Knife may be a treatment option for patients with essential tremor who are high risk for surgery due to medical conditions or advanced age.


Options for Deep Brain Stimulation
Dr. Mark Richardson discusses patient options for deep brain stimulation at UPMC.


Meet Karen
Suffering from essential tremor, Karen turned to the experts at UPMC for treatment.

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