An essential tremor is an involuntary shaking movement that can affect your arms, head, eyelids, or other muscles. You may shake without trying to do so and find you cannot control the shaking once it starts. Essential tremors often occur in men and women over the age of 65. To diagnose the cause of an essential tremor, get genetic tests done to see if it is a familial condition. Your doctor can also run other tests to help determine the cause.
EditDetermining a Genetic Cause
- Ask your family members if essential tremor runs in the family. Though the exact cause of essential tremor is unknown, it may be passed down through family genes. If any of your family members have essential tremor, such as a parent, you are more likely to have the gene that causes essential tremor. This is called familial tremor, where one parent has the gene, making you more susceptible to the condition.
- Ask your parents if they have essential tremor. Speak to your family members to determine if they have essential tremor or if it runs in your family.
- Check if anyone in your family has symptoms of essential tremor. You can also note if any of your family members are starting to show signs of the condition. The symptoms tend to appear in people over the age of 65, though they can start to manifest in middle age. Look for symptoms like:
- Head nodding.
- Shaking or quivering of their arms, head, and eyelids.
- A shaking or quivering sound to their voice, as the tremor can affect their voice box.
- Difficulties writing, drawing, drinking from a cup, or using tools.
- The tremors may come and go but often get worse over time. They may or may not affect both sides of the person’s body in the same way.
- Ask your doctor to run a genetic test for essential tremor. If you suspect you may have inherited the gene for essential tremor, speak to your doctor about getting a test for the gene. Your doctor will test a swab taken from the inside of your mouth to see if you have the genetic mutation that causes essential tremor.
- Genetic testing does not change treatment or management options, but it can help you predict whether or not you are genetically predisposed to having essential tremor.
EditGetting Medical Tests Done for Essential Tremor
- Get tested for hyperthyroidism. There are several conditions that can cause tremor, including hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. Your doctor can test you for this condition by conducting a physical exam. They will also review your medical history to see if you have any previous symptoms that could indicate you have hyperthyroidism.
- Your doctor will do a blood test to see if you have abnormal levels of thyroxine and TSH in your blood. This can indicate you have hyperthyroidism.
- See a specialist for Parkinson’s disease. This medical condition can cause essential tremor. It will need to be diagnosed by a specialist who works with patients with Parkinson’s disease. The specialist will determine if you have Parkinson’s disease by doing a physical exam and having you complete several neurological tests to check your agility, your balance, and your motor skills.
- They will also look for other symptoms of Parkinson’s besides your tremors, such as trouble with your balance, slowness of movement, and stiffness in your arms, legs, or torso.
- Get tested for multiple sclerosis. Another condition associated with essential tremor is multiple sclerosis. It can be diagnosed by getting blood tests done by your doctor. Your doctor may also perform a spinal tap to test a sample of your spinal fluid. They may conduct an MRI to check for lesions on your spinal chord and your brain.
- They may review your medical history to see if you have previous symptoms or a pattern of symptoms that may indicate you have multiple sclerosis.
- Determine if you’ve had a stroke. Having essential tremor may indicate that you have had a stroke. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and conduct a blood test to determine if you have had a stroke. They will also do a CT scan and an MRI of your brain to see if there are signs of a stroke.
- They may also perform a carotid ultrasound, a cerebral angiogram, and an echocardiogram to confirm you have had a stroke.
- Speak to your doctor about substance abuse issues, if applicable. The overuse of drugs like amphetamines, corticosteroids, and pharmaceutical drugs can lead to the development of essential tremor. Alcohol abuse can also cause tremor. If you have any substance abuse issues, tell your doctor and discuss whether this may be the cause of your essential tremor.
- You may also experience essential tremor when going through substance withdrawal.
- Ask your doctor about other health issues that can cause essential tremor. Other health issues like mercury poisoning and liver failure can also cause essential tremor. If you suspect you may have these health issues, speak to your doctor and get tests done to confirm the diagnosis.
- Keep in mind that sometimes there is no overt cause of essential tremor. The cause may be a variety of health factors or there may be no clear cause.
EditTreating an Essential Tremor
- Take medication for essential tremor. If your symptoms are mild, you may not need to take medication for essential tremor. But if your symptoms are severe and getting in the way of your everyday life, your doctor may prescribe medication like beta blockers, anti-seizure medications, and tranquilizers. Speak to your doctor about any side effects of the medications and any issues the medication may cause with medication you are already taking.
- Another medication that is sometimes recommended for essential tremor is Botox injections. The injections can improve tremors for up to three months at a time, but it can cause weakness in your fingers if used on your hands.
- Get physical therapy. Your doctor may suggest that you do physical or occupational therapy to help with the tremors. Physical therapy can help improve your muscle strength and control. Your doctor can refer you to an occupational therapist.
- As part of the therapy sessions, you may use adaptive devices to make doing daily activities easier. Using heavier glasses and utensils, wrist weights, and wide, heavier writing tools can help make living with essential tremor more manageable.
- Make lifestyle changes. As part of your treatment plan, you may make lifestyle changes like using the hand less affected by the tremor more often. You may also reduce your level of stress and anxiety on a day to day basis, as this can make the tremors worse.
- For example, you may take up a relaxing hobby that requires little physical activity, like reading, listening to music, or watching movies.
- You can also do deep breathing and meditation to help you relax, without putting too much stress on your body.
- Change your diet. Making dietary changes can make the tremors more manageable. Cut out caffeine and other stimulants as well as alcohol in your diet. Your doctor may recommend a specific diet that you can go on to reduce your tremors.
- The diet may consist of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as prepared meals at home, rather than prepackaged meals. Your doctor may instruct you to avoid artificial sugar, additives, and dyes, as these can trigger your tremors.
- If you live with others, ask them to help you prepare these special meals, as you may struggle to prepare food on your own due to your tremors.
- Seek support from family and friends. Your doctor may recommend that you lean on family and friends for support as you deal with essential tremor. You may join a support group to help you cope with essential tremor and hire a caretaker, if needed, to make living with essential tremor easier.
- Depending on the severity of your essential tremor, your doctor may recommend that you have a live in caretaker or someone, such as a friend or family member, who checks in with you on a daily basis. This may be a good option if you struggle to do daily tasks on your own due to your essential tremor.