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Definition Return to top
Tremors are a type of involuntary shaking movement. Involuntary means you shake without trying to do so.
Causes Return to top
Tremors are caused by problems with the nerves supplying certain muscles. They may affect the whole body or just certain areas, as with hand tremor.
Types of tremors include:
Other causes of tremors may include:
All people have some tremor when they move their hands. Stress, fatigue, anger, fear, caffeine, and cigarettes may temporarily worsen this type of tremor.
Symptoms Return to top
Tremors may affect the hands, arms, head, eyelids, voice box, or other muscles. They rarely affect the legs or feet.
The shaking usually involves small, rapid movements -- more than 5 times a second.
The tremors may:
Head nodding may be a symptom of a tremor.
If the tremor affects the voice box, you may have a shaking or quivering sound to your voice.
Exams and Tests Return to top
Your doctor can make the diagnosis by performing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical and personal history.
A physical exam will show shaking with movement. There are usually no other problems with coordination or changes in thinking or brain function.
The quality of the tremor is often the most helpful thing in determining the cause. What parts of the body are affected? Does it happen at rest, when moving or both? How fast, and how obvious is it?
Further tests may be needed to rule out other reasons for the tremors. Blood tests and imaging studies (such as a CT scan of the head, brain MRI, and x-rays) are usually normal.
Treatment Return to top
Treament may not be necessary unless the tremors interfere with your daily activities or cause embarrassment.
Treatment depends on the cause. Tremors caused by an medical condition such as hyperthyroidism will likely get better when the condition is treated.
If the tremors are caused by certain medicine, stopping the drug usually helps them go away. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor. See: Drug-induced tremor
Medicines may help relieve symptoms. How well medicines work depend on the individual patient.
Two medications used to treat tremors include:
The drugs can have significant side effects.
Side effects of propranolol include:
Side effects of primidone include:
Other medications that may reduce tremors include:
Botox injections, given in the hand, have been used to reduce tremors by weakening local muscles.
In severe cases, surgery to implant a stimulating device in the brain may be an option.
Possible Complications Return to top
Severe tremors can interfere with daily activities, especially fine motor skills (such as writing). If the tremor affects the voice box, speech problems can occur.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
See your health care provider if you have a persistent, unexplained tremors or if tremors are interfering with your ability to perform daily activities.
Prevention Return to top
Stress and caffeine can make tremors worse. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda, and other stimulants. Exercise and counseling to reduce emotional stress may also help.
Alcoholic beverages in small quantities may decrease tremors but can lead to alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, especially if you have a family history of such problems. How alcohol helps relieve tremors is unknown.
References Return to top
Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Goetz CG, ed. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2007:chap. 34.Update Date: 6/19/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.