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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Tremor is the shaky movements of your hands, limbs, head or voice that you can't control. Sometimes tremor is a normal reaction to a situation such as fear, fatigue or anger. It also can be a side effect of too much caffeine, a medication, or withdrawal from a drug or medicine. When tremor occurs during activities and there is no emotional or chemical cause, it can be a sign of a neurological disease called essential tremor.

Essential tremor is different than Parkinson's disease, another neurological illness. Essential tremor is most noticeable when your body is in action, such as when you are writing, typing or pouring a beverage. In contrast, the tremors of Parkinson's are more noticeable at rest.

In essential tremor, tremors begin when you use your hands. For example, when you are writing, typing or pouring a beverage. Essential tremor often begins in the dominant hand.

People sometimes worry that essential tremor is the start of Parkinson's disease. The two conditions are very different. The tremors of Parkinson's are more noticeable at rest. People with Parkinson's watch their hands shake when they rest in their lap. But when they reach out to grab or hold something, such as a cup of coffee, the shaking stops.

As many as one in four people develop essential tremor as they age. You are more likely to develop essential tremor if you have a parent or sibling with the condition.

Essential tremor is much more common than Parkinson's disease.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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