(BPT) – Everyone has had shaky hands at times. Maybe it was because you were nervous or cold. Now imagine if your hands and potentially other parts of your body were trembling whenever you ran errands, ate lunch, or attempted other typical daily tasks. Challenges like these represent the reality for people who have a neurological condition called essential tremor. It currently affects an estimated 7 million Americans, so it is more common than people realize1.
“Essential tremor, commonly known as ‘ET,’ causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands when people are trying to perform an action such as eating, writing, dressing, or drinking,” explained Patrick McCartney, Executive Director of the International Essential Tremor Foundation, an advocacy group dedicated to providing education, awareness, support, and research for people affected by essential tremor. “It can be confused with other conditions like Parkinson’s disease, but essential tremor is actually seven times more common2. This is why we are committed to raising awareness and to ‘Make ET the Talk of the Town,’ which is the theme for our efforts this year.”
March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month but raising awareness about this life-altering condition is important year-round. Here are some facts you should know about essential tremor, especially if you are noticing signs that may be impacting you or loved ones.
Identifying the symptoms and impact
Involuntary trembling of hands when performing daily tasks is the most common sign of essential tremor, but it can impact other parts of the body as well. Essential tremor is progressive, which means it will get worse over time, decreasing a person’s ability to do common daily tasks such as tying shoelaces, eating, typing, writing, or pouring a drink. ET can have a significant impact on a person’s life, even with mild cases. If you or a loved one is experiencing uncontrolled shaking, it’s important to speak with your doctor.
Getting to a diagnosis
After meeting with your doctor, you may get referred to a neurologist or a movement disorder specialist for further evaluation. There are no medical tests to diagnose essential tremor; rather, a specialist conducts an exam to determine if you have essential tremor or if there are other causes of the trembling.
Treatment – knowing your options
Treatments for essential tremor currently include medications, and in more severe cases, surgical intervention; however, most medications were originally developed for the treatment of other conditions, like high blood pressure or epilepsy. Many people are also limited in their treatment choices because of potential interactions with other medications they are taking or have side effects, which sometimes causes people to stop taking them. In fact, research shows nearly half of all people with essential tremor stop taking their medication, further underscoring the need for new innovative treatment options for ET3.
Managing your wellness
The unpredictability of essential tremor on everyday life often leads to stress, anxiety, depression or even embarrassment in social settings, as those affected may feel they have to explain their tremor in public situations4,5. Since essential tremor can disrupt people’s daily activities, ET impacts mental health along with physical health. It is important to seek out resources or speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing mental health distress due to the condition.
“A lot of people who may have symptoms of essential tremor go undiagnosed, so it’s extremely important to seek out resources and talk to your doctor to identify if you have ET,” says McCartney. “There are tools out there at your disposal to learn how to navigate everyday life including getting connected to other people with essential tremor, who can speak to their journey from personal experience.”
Take action and get help today
Continued medical research is needed to develop new, effective therapies for people living with essential tremor. One company investigating potential treatments is Praxis Precision Medicines, who is committed to developing treatment options for people living with complex central nervous system disorders, including ET. Praxis is currently conducting clinical trials, which are research studies that evaluate the way a study drug works in the body, including assessing its safety, effectiveness, and the way the body processes it. Talk to your doctor to understand if a clinical trial may be an option for you.
People with essential tremor experience worsening symptoms differently, and many people put off seeking diagnosis when symptoms first arise until the condition gets worse over time6. If you or a loved one has symptoms, contact your doctor now. If you receive an essential tremor diagnosis, you can explore therapies and join support communities that may help. To learn more visit EssentialTremor.org.
1. US National Library of Medicine – How Many People in the USA Have Essential Tremor? Deriving a Population Estimate Based on Epidemiological Data – Elan D. Louis and Ruth Ottman https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137360/
2. Louis ED, McCreary M. How Common is Essential Tremor? Update on the Worldwide Prevalence of Essential Tremor. Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements. 2021;11(1):28. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/tohm.632
3. US National Library of Medicine – How are We Doing With the Treatment of Essential Tremor (ET)? Persistence of ET Patients on Medication: Data from 528 Patients in Three Settings – Elan D. Louis, MD, MS, Eileen Rios, BS,1 and Claire Henchcliffe, MD DPhil https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2889923/
4. Louis ED. The Essential Tremors: A Family of Neurodegenerative Disorders. Archives of Neurology. 2009;66(10):1202-1208. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1001%2Farchneurol.2009.217
5. Data on File, Praxis Precision Medicines, Inc.
6. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – Tremor Fact Sheet – Prepared by: Office of Communications and Public Liaison National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD 20892 https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Tremor-Fact-Sheet