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Glossary

Glossary

Find definitions of technical terms in our glossary.

Understanding Essential Tremor

If you or a loved one lives with essential tremor (ET), you are not alone. As the world’s most common adult movement disorder, ET affects approximately 10 million people in the U.S. alone, which is more than two percent of the U.S. population.1 While this means that many more people have ET than have Parkinson’s disease (PD), up to thirty-five percent of people with ET are misdiagnosed, many of them with PD.1

2.2% percent of the U.S. population lives with essential tremor, while around 0.3% lives with Parkinson’s.1


You also know that life with ET can be very different than life before. Even simple tasks like eating, drinking, speaking and writing can become difficult, especially if and when symptoms like shaking and trembling worsen over time.

Although the exact cause of ET has not yet been identified and there is no cure, we do know about symptoms and areas of the brain that are involved, and about treatment and therapy options like the St. Jude Medical Infinity™ DBS system that can help you regain control.

Essential tremor, the brain and risk factors

Although the exact reason people have essential tremor is unknown, it may be due to abnormal activity involving the area of the brain called the thalamus.2 Some studies suggest that people with ET show a mild degeneration in parts of the cerebellum,3 an area of the brain responsible for coordinating movement.

4 to 5% of people who experience essential tremor are between 40 and 60.1


Factors that play a role in developing essential tremor can include:

  • Age: Symptoms may appear at any age, but ET commonly develops after age 40.4 The severity of symptoms can worsen as you age.
  • Genetics: ET can run in families. A person who has a parent with ET has a fifty-percent chance of inheriting the condition.4
  • Environmental causes: Some studies suggest that certain environmental toxins may play a role in developing ET.5

Symptoms of essential tremor

When the tremor cells involved in ET fire, the result can be:

  • An uncontrollable shaking or rhythmic trembling of certain areas of the body such as the hands, head, legs or torso when you are doing activities
  • A shaking voice
  • Tremors that increase with deliberate movement and that lessen when you are resting
  • Tremors that are triggered by, or worsen because of, stress, emotion, caffeine and physical exertion

While ET can make everyday activities challenging, it can also lead to embarrassment and social isolation for people who are self-conscious about going out in public.

Estimates show that medications help fewer than 60% of people with ET.1


Finding a better way to live

If your ET symptoms have progressed to the point where you and your physician are discussing therapy options, you may be considering a range of approaches. They may include:

  • Physical and occupational therapy: Some people may improve muscle control, strength and coordination with these therapies.4
  • Medication: Your doctor may choose from several medications to help control your symptoms. These may include a beta-blocker such as propranolol, an anti-seizure medication such as primidone or an anti-anxiety medication such as diazepam. Few medications for treating ET are very effective,1 and those that are commonly prescribed can cause side effects, such as decreased pulse rate (propranolol), nausea and poor balance (primidone) and sleepiness and loss of coordination (diazepam); some anti-anxiety medications can be addictive.6
  • Injection therapy: Botox (or botulinum toxin) injections may help control your involuntary movements and muscle contractions. As your symptoms progress over time, however, the injections may become less effective.2
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy: DBS is a personalized, reversible, adjustable therapy involving an implanted device that blocks electrical signals from targeted areas in the brain that are responsible for involuntary movements. If your medication or other therapy is not providing you adequate symptom relief, DBS therapy and a system like the St. Jude Medical Infinity™ DBS system may be for you.

Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice from your physician or other health care providers. You should always talk with your physician about your treatment and any symptoms you are experiencing.