Essential tremor is a type of uncontrollable shake or tremble of part of the body.  

It is a common movement disorder that for most people is a minor nuisance, however, it does get gradually worse with time. At its most severe, essential tremor is disabling and makes it very difficult to perform daily activities (see below).

Essential tremor usually affects the arms and hands, although it can also affect other body parts, including head, face, jaw, tongue and feet.

Sometimes, the voice can also sound shaky. Read more about symptoms of essential tremor.

There is no cure for essential tremor, but medicines can be used to help improve the symptoms in at least half of people with the condition. Read more about treatment of essential tremor.

'Normal' tremor

Everyone has a very minor tremor when carrying out daily activities. For example, your hands will shake slightly when you hold them out in front of you. This is normal.

Sometimes, the everyday level of tremor can become more noticeable, particularly in older people. Noticeable tremor is also normal and it is often caused by a raised level of adrenaline in the body, which can happen when a person is stressed, anxious or angry.

It can also occur when a person is taking certain types of medication, such as inhalers for asthma.

When does a tremor become a disorder?

Essential tremor is more severe than normal tremor. It can be made worse by the same things that cause normal tremor, such as stress and anxiety.

Essential tremor gradually gets worse over the years. Eventually, the tremor may become so severe that carrying out normal, everyday activities can become difficult. For example, activities such as writing, drinking a glass of water or tying shoelaces may become particularly challenging.

When to see your GP

It is important that you visit your GP if you experience frequent or severe tremors. They will carry out a physical examination to check for tremor when you move.

They will also ask about your medical history and that of your immediate family to find out whether essential tremor runs in your family.

There is no specific test to diagnose essential tremor. The condition is usually diagnosed after clinical assessment.

Who is affected?

Essential tremor affects men and women equally. It can affect people of any age, although it becomes more common with advancing age. Around 4 out of 100 adults over 40 years of age have the condition.

Essential tremor can run in families. At least half of people with the condition have a family member who also has it.

Read more about the causes of essential tremor.

At its most severe, uncontrollable shaking can make performing daily activities very difficult 

Pharmacy and medicines

Using your local pharmacy's services could save you an unnecessary trip to your GP

Page last reviewed: 29/01/2013

Next review due: 29/01/2015