The Truth about essential tremor
THIS PREVALENT CAUSE OF SHAKINESS IS OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR PARKINSON'S.
This prevalent cause of shakiness is often mistaken for Parkinson's.
Tremors associated with essential tremor typically occur while the person is eating, drinking, writing, typing, brushing teeth or performing another movement-oriented activity.
If your hand routinely shakes when you hold a drink, sign your name or tap a number into your cellphone, you may fear that you're experiencing signs of Parkinson's disease. But what you're more likely to have is essential tremor, a common neurological condition that causes an involuntary, rhythmic trembling of the hands during movement but can also affect the head, voice or legs. While it's often confused with Parkinson's, essential tremor is eight times more common and affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S.,.
Unlike Parkinson's, which is a degenerative disease that causes someone to lose brain cells, essential tremor is results from a malfunction of certain neurons, but you don't lose brain cells, and you don't lose gait or balance."
Despite its prevalence, it wasn't until 2013 that essential tremor was given its own specific diagnostic code, one that's distinct from other tremors, in the 10th edition of the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems (ICD) code book. In medicine, the word "essential" means there's no known underlying cause for a symptom, which is the case for essential tremor.
Essential Tremor affects men and women equally, and it's hereditary in more than 50 percent of people who have it. Though the average decade of onset is in the 40s, essential tremor can occur at any time, even in children.
Usually, the tremor that's characteristic of essential tremor occurs while the person is performing a movement-oriented activity – such as eating, drinking, writing, typing or brushing teeth – or when the hand is in a still but outstretched position (called a postural tremor). The severity can range from a barely noticeable trembling that's exacerbated by stress, anxiety, fatigue, excess caffeine or certain stimulant asthma medications to a severe, disabling tremor that has a significant impact on your ability to perform daily activities.
Actress Katharine Hepburn. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Playwright Eugene O’Neill. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd. All of them suffered from essential tremor, a neurological condition that causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands, head, voice or legs. Essential tremor, or ET, affects an estimated 10 million Americans.
There aren't blood or other medical tests that can definitively diagnose essential tremor. Instead, a neurologist makes the diagnosis on the basis of a detailed medical history and a neurological evaluation that's designed partly to rule out other possible causes of the tremor.
Essential Tremor can interfere with one's life and you can't work or do daily activates. If it impairs your ability to function, the condition is usually treated with medications such as beta-blockers, anti-seizure drugs, anti-anxiety meds or Botox injections. There's a lot of trial and error to find a medication that works well for any given patient; sometimes drug treatment helps sufficiently, and sometimes it doesn't.
Essential tremor is a progressive condition.
For people with severe tremor that doesn't respond to drugs, surgical therapies and other treatments are gaining traction. With deep brain stimulation, a probe is implanted in the thalamus, the part of the brain that causes tremors, and a wire runs from the probe to a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest.
There is also Fucus Ultrasound, a noninvasive MRI-guided high-intensity ultrasound technique, which uses concentrated ultrasound waves to selectively damage the part of the brain that contributes to tremors.