Essential Tremor: Shaky Hands Symptoms and Causes

May 14, 2018

Did you know? Essential tremor or shaky hands is not just limited to the elderly. It can also affect children and middle-aged people. In fact, this condition is also highly prevalent in newborns. Let's find out more about shaky hands symptoms, its causes, and treatments.

What Is Essential Tremor (Shaky Hands)?

Essential tremor (ET), also known as shaky hands, is a developing, neurological condition characterized by tremor, most often of the hands or arms. It is a type of unmanageable shake or tremble of parts of the body. Patients with essential tremor experience an uneven, up-and-down movement of the hands. Some may only have a mild tremor at first, which usually gets more severe over time. Essential tremor or shaky hands are typically more visible when an individual is trying to hold a position or do something with their hands, such as writing. It doesn't always affect both sides of the body equally. In some cases, patients may also develop a number of other symptoms including cognitive impairment, depression or anxiety.

What Causes Shaky Hands?

There are still no sure factors found that cause shaky hands. However, here are some risk factors that may make symptoms worse, including:
  • Lack of sleep. When you do not get enough sleep, this may trigger neurological reflexes that cause shakiness.
  • Too much caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your body, causing your muscles to move out of sequence.
  • Low blood sugar. Low blood sugar causes shakiness because the nerves and muscles are deprived of necessary fuel.
  • When you become anxious, stressed or even angry, your nerves are heightened, causing shakiness.
  • Certain medications. Some people are more sensitive to medication than others. Asthma medications, antidepressants, lithium and even antihistamines can cause your hands to shake.

Shaky Hands Symptoms

Although shaky hands symptoms are mild in most cases, they can worsen over time. The most common symptom of essential tremor is trembling, mainly of the hands, in an up-and-down movement. Essential tremor may affect other parts of the body including:
  • head
  • jaw
  • eyelids
  • face
  • tongue
  • larynx, or voice box
  • hands and arms
  • legs and feet, rarely
Signs and shaky hands symptoms tend to start later on in life. When the hands are at rest, no symptoms can be seen. The condition seems to be more evident when applying a force against gravity. Both sides of the body tend to be evenly affected. In severe cases, this movement disorder can be immobilizing. As a result, it becomes hard for the patient to complete their daily activities, such as tying things up, drinking a glass of water, or even writing.

Is This Condition Treatable?

If symptoms are manageable, the doctor may advise some medications. However, if the quality of life and the ability to perform everyday tasks are affected, these treatments may be recommended. Medications treatment for Shaky Hands The following medications may help to reduce the symptoms:
  • Beta blockers are useful in treating conditions like high blood pressure and hypertension.
  • Anticonvulsants are useful in treating seizures. These are prescribed if beta blockers do not relieve symptoms.
  • Sedatives are ordered if the tremors are instigating by tension or anxiety and other medications have not worked.
  • Botox injections are useful if the head or voice is affected.
Therapy Doctors might suggest physical or professional therapy. Physical therapists can help with exercises to improve the muscle strength, control and coordination. Professional therapists can help one adapt to living with essential tremor. They might suggest adaptive equipments to lessen the effect of tremors on the daily activities, including:
  • wrist weights
  • heavier glasses and utensils
  • wider, heavier writing tools, such as wide-grip pens
Surgery In rare cases, symptoms may be severe enough to require surgery. For those cases, deep brain stimulation surgery is advised. This surgical procedure involves minimal permanent surgical changes to the brain. Instead, the procedure uses electrical stimulation to regulate electrical signals in neural circuits to and from identified areas in the brain to improve essential tremor symptoms.

Tips to Prevent Shaky Hands

Certain medications may also cause shaky hands, while some people may even be hereditarily prone to it. However, shaky hands symptoms or essential tremors are easily preventable with simple lifestyle changes. Following these guidelines will help in controlling trembling arm to a great extent.
  • Eliminate consumption of caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and excess caffeine consumption causes shaky hands. In more severe cases, it may also lead to dizziness, headaches, anxiety and serious heart complications.
  • Keep your blood sugar levels in check. Consuming a lot of sugary foods can also cause a sudden spike in the blood sugar levels. This can result in the essential tumor, and cause other symptoms such as irritability and weakness.
  • Avoid being stressful. Stress, anxiety, and nervousness are a common cause of shaky hands. Therefore, try to relax and reduce stress and tension. There are many forms of relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and breathing, which can greatly benefit the nervous system and induce relaxation.
  • Increase intake of vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium may lead to shaky hands.
  • Avoid alcohol as it may interact with medications used to treat shaky hands.

Some tips for people suffering from essential tremor:

  • Save tough tasks for the best time of day. For instance, if the tremors seem worse at certain times of the day, plan other activities in those hours. Leave tasks like paying bills or filling out greeting cards at those times. Resume when you feel better.
  • Purchase heavier, larger utensils. Using heavier eating utensils can sometimes “reduce” tremors. Also, buy larger handle utensils to make control easier.
  • Wear clothes that are easy to slip on. Buy clothes with Velcro fasteners or hooks that make putting them on and off less tough.
  • Find slip-on shoes that are easy to wear.
  • Carry a travel mug or straw for drinking. It will reduce the trouble of holding a coffee mug still.

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