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Uncontrollable Hand Tremors

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By The Staff

Patricia A. Woodbury RN, MSN

If your hands tremble occasionally, it may be just a fleeting nervous situation.  But, if it happens frequently and spontaneously, and cannot be controlled, it could be a condition called essential tremor (E.T.).

E.T is the most common movement disorder, afflicting up to 10 million people in the United States.  It is a chronic progressive condition that usually affects the hands, but can also disrupt other parts of the body including, the head, arms, vocal cords and less commonly the lower body.

The involuntary shaking movements are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease but E.T. is a different condition.  It is not life threatening but it can often be life –altering.  It is also possible to have both E.T. and Parkinson’s.

Although tremors can start at any age, they tend to have distinct starting points in adolescence and middle age.  The cause is not known but appears to have a genetic component, as E.T. can be passed down through families.  While the condition is common, Indira Subramanian, MD, UCLA Department of Neurology says that it is not a normal part of aging.

The condition of E.T. is diagnosed through physical and neurological exams, as well as the medical history.  Imaging may be necessary to determine if the tremor is caused by damage in the brain.  The physician would want to know:  which body parts are affected, one or both sides, if tremors occur when performing an action or at rest, and how fast and how large the tremors are.  Fine motor tasks such as drawing spirals, picking up a glass of water or placing the finger on the tip of the nose may be tested.

E.T. can develop from repetitive motions say of musicians or writers.  E.T. is treatable but not curable.  There are adaptive devices that can help improve hand grip, reduce spills and make typing easier.  Because medications can have unwanted side effects, finding solutions to help improve the activity (such as adaptive devices) may be enough.  Physical therapists and occupational therapists can help people figure out how better to adapt to their specific daily needs. 

E.T. can worsen under stress, so techniques that can help you relax in the moment can be especially useful.  Mindfulness meditation and breath work can reduce anxiety and the tremors.  Eliminating or reducing tremor-inducing substances, such as caffeine, are also useful strategies.

E.T. is a common, chronic and progressive condition, but everyone’s prognosis is different.  Many people may feel embarrassed by tremors and try to hide them.  There is significant relief from seeking treatment and the first step is to talk to your doctor about finding an accurate diagnosis.

Source:  UCLA Health, Healthy Years, October 2017.