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Essential Tremor Fact Sheet

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Essential tremor treatment at UK HealthCare

The Movement Disorders Clinic specializes in the evaluation and treatment of disorders of gait, coordination and other aspects of movement including essential tremor.

What is essential tremor?

Essential tremor (ET) is a very common neurological disorder. It affects as many as five million Americans; most of them age 60 or older. ET is a chronic condition characterized by uncontrolled trembling of the voice or a body part. The most common areas affected are the hands and arms.

In most patients, ET is considered a slowly progressive disorder and may eventually involve tremors in the head, voice, tongue, legs and torso. However, in many patients, the disease may be relatively nonprogressive and the tremor may be very mild throughout life.

Symptoms

Essential tremor usually begins gradually, affecting both men and women equally. Symptoms often begin in mid- to late-life. Some people have relatively mild symptoms throughout their lives, while others develop more severe tremors and increased disability over time. Affected individuals may have difficulty performing everyday tasks such as holding or moving small objects, small tools or utensils. Hand tremors may also cause difficulties with writing, drinking fluids, eating, sewing, applying makeup, shaving or dressing. Anxiety and temperature extremes make symptoms worse, but tremors usually disappear during sleep or rest.

What causes essential tremor?

About one-third to half of all ET cases occurs because of a genetic mutation. Causes of essential tremor in people without genetic mutations is not known. Doctors do know the problem occurs in the brain circuits that control movement. Many people associate the beginning of their tremors with a stressful event.

Essential tremor is often mistaken for Parkinson's disease (PD). Some people have both ET and another disorder that causes tremor. Medications for Parkinson's disease do not help essential tremor symptoms. Many prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and some herbal remedies can worsen essential tremor.

Diagnosing essential tremor

Essential tremor may be difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat. In some cases, patients may wait up to 20 years before seeking appropriate medical evaluation for their worsening symptoms.

It is possible to measure essential tremor and its impacts on patients through physiologic techniques and functional performance tests. The physiologic aspects of hand tremor may be measured using a specialized device known as an accelerometer. During testing, a device records how frequently the tremors occur, which is attached to the underside of the index finger. Many physicians also use a functional performance test, which measures the patient's ability to write, hold a piece of paper or drink from a glass.

Treating essential tremor

The approach to the treatment of ET needs to be balanced, taking into account the patient's history, response to previous treatment, co-existing diseases and other factors. Surgery is often needed for people with severe ET symptoms or those whose symptoms have not responded to the medications used to treat the disease.

To find out more, contact UK Movement Disorder Clinic at 859-323-5661 or go online: Movement Disorders Clinic  

Page last updated: 4/30/2014 1:24:20 PM