What is Essential Tremor?
Essential tremor (ET) is the most common movement disorder. With about 1 million Americans diagnosed, it is more common than Parkinson’s disease, a condition it is often confused with. ET is a progressive nervous system disorder characterized by involuntary, rhythmic muscle contractions that occur during movement. Hands and arms are the most commonly affected, but ET could also occur in the voice or head.
Dr. Mya Schiess
Director, Movement Disorders and Neurodegenerative Diseases
UTHealth Houston Neurosciences neurological specialists have the experience and expertise to diagnose and create a comprehensive treatment plan to treat essential tremor. Our medical team will listen to your concerns and provide personalized care.
Causes of Essential Tremor
The exact cause is unknown, but there does appear to be an inherited component. Many essential tremor cases are related to genetic mutations and appear to be inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning that one copy of an altered gene is sufficient to cause the disorder.
Tremor can be associated with other neurological disorders, including stroke, multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury. ET is more common in people 40 and older.
Signs of Essential Tremor
Essential tremor is a shaking that usually begins gradually on one side of the body. It can include a nodding or shaking of the head. It is often aggravated by stress, fatigue, hunger, and extreme tension. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor usually occurs when you use your hands, rather than when they are at rest or in a gait position. Other motor symptoms may be present, such as a lack of coordination, but they are not as common with ET as they are with Parkinson’s.
ET is not a dangerous condition, but it may interfere with fine motor skills, such as holding a cup or writing legibly. Everyday activities like eating and writing can become difficult.
The intensity of the shaking can vary tremendously, but the condition usually progresses slowly.
A neurologist can usually diagnose essential tremor based on symptoms and a neurological exam. They may need to rule out other causes, such as thyroid disease or medications with side effects.
There is no known cure for essential tremor. Mild cases may not require treatment, but more severe cases may benefit from medication or surgery. Patients might be encouraged to avoid caffeine, as it can aggravate symptoms.
Doctors will discuss the prescription options, as well as the possible benefits of Botox injections for vocal or head tremors. Deep brain stimulation is a surgical treatment for people with severe tremor. During the procedure, a trained UTHealth Houston neurosurgeon would implant electrical leads into the thalamus, the area deep in the brain that coordinates muscle control.
And MRI-guided ultrasound may be used to destroy tissue in the thalamus.
What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences and the UT MOVE clinic, a team of specialists works together to determine the care each patient needs, discussing treatment options as a group.
Throughout the treatment process, our team works closely with the referring doctor to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care plan. While you are with us, you can expect expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.
Deep Brain Stimulation
Essential tremor/tremor states
Gait and Balance Disorders
Generalized and focal dystonias
Generalized and partial seizures
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spinocerebellar ataxias (SCA)
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.