Essential Tremors (ET): Part 1

We’ve done a profile on how Parkinson’s disease can affect physicians and dentists, but did you know that essential tremors are eight times more common than Parkinson’s disease?  A hand tremor is one of the last things a physician or dentist wants.  Not only can it affect daily life, but working with patients safely becomes increasingly difficult.

In this post, we will list some of the risk factors and common symptoms associated with essential tremors and take a look at what can be done to perhaps alleviate symptoms.

What is an essential tremor and what are the symptoms?

An essential tremor (ET) is a neurological disorder that causes rhythmic shaking of part of the body—most often the hands, head, or voice.

The primary symptoms of ET are involuntary shaking, voice fluctuations, nodding head, balance problems, and tremors that get worse during periods of emotional stress, fatigue, caffeine use, and/or purposeful movement.  ET is a progressive disorder than can become worse over time.

What is the difference between Parkinson’s and ET?

Many people believe that Parkinson’s and ET are the same thing.  However, there are some subtle differences between the two conditions, including:

  1. Timing: ET usually occurs when you are in motion, while Parkinson’s is most noticeable when you are at rest.
  1. Related Conditions: ET generally does not cause other health problems, but Parkinson’s has been connected to poor posture, a shuffling gait, and slow movement.
  1. Parts of Body Affected: ET is most common in the hands, head, and voice. Parkinson’s most often starts in your hands and may also affect the legs and chin.

What are the causes and how do you know if you are at risk?

ET appears to be a genetic disorder, because approximately 50% of people with ET have a particular genetic mutation.  However, scientists are not sure what causes ET in people who do not have the genetic mutation.  Researchers have found that changes in specific areas of the brain may contribute to development of the condition, but such studies are inconclusive.

Because the other causes of ET are unknown, the primary way to determine whether you have a high risk of developing essential tremors is to check your family history.  Due to the fact that the mutation is an autosomal dominant disorder, if one of your parents has ET, you have a 50% chance of developing the disorder.  Another risk factor is age—people over 40 are more likely to have an ET.

Is there a cure for ET or a way to prevent it?

Unfortunately, is currently not a cure for ET.  However, now that scientists have found a genetic link, further research could potentially discover ways to prevent ET.

How can I alleviate my symptoms?

Since emotional stress is one of the things that can aggravate ET, look for ways to relieve your stress. Other methods of alleviating ET include decreasing your coffee and caffeine intake and making sure that you get an adequate amount of sleep each night.  Certain medications may also can help with ET, although it is important to speak with your doctor before starting any sort of treatment.  Finally, surgery may be an option in some cases, although surgery certainly is not without its risks.  Surgery for ET generally involves the implantation of a DBS, or a Deep Brain Stimulator.  The DBS is a small device that delivers targeted electrical stimulation to the brain in an effort to reduce the frequency of tremors.

In addition to the foregoing methods of alleviating ET symptoms, there are other things that you can do to make living with ET easier, such as using a travel mug or straw for drinks, using heavier utensils for eating, wearing clothes that don’t have difficult buttons or laces, and saving your most difficult tasks for days when your tremor is least pronounced.

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