Skip to content

    Brain & Nervous System Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Don't Be Embarrassed by Essential Tremors

    By
    WebMD Health News

    June 6, 2001 -- What do patriot Samuel Adams, playwright Eugene O'Neill, and actress Katharine Hepburn have in common?

    They all suffered from essential tremor, or shaking of the hands, head, voice, and body, especially when active or anxious. Despite this handicap, which tends to worsen with aging, they all continued to accomplish great things as they grew older.

    "Essential tremor is a very common condition," Franklin Schneier, MD, associate director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic of New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York, tells WebMD. It affects three to four million Americans, or up to one in five of those over age 65. Because it is inherited, about half of children born to a parent with essential tremor eventually develop it, usually starting in their 30s.

    "One of the most common misconceptions about essential tremor is that it is a 'benign' condition," Joseph Jankovic, MD, tells WebMD. "While in most cases essential tremor does not interfere with social or occupational functioning, this familial disorder is often quite disabling."

    "Besides the physical disability that interferes with writing, feeding, dressing, and other activities of daily living, essential tremor often is a cause of embarrassment, [which] is difficult to quantitate," says Jankovic, a professor of neurology and director of the Parkinson's Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

    Unlike the tremor of Parkinson's disease, the shaking in essential tremor gets worse with anxiety and with simple activities like writing, eating, drinking a cup of coffee or dialing a phone. Shaking in public makes the person embarrassed, which in turn aggravates the tremor, creating a vicious circle.

    "As a result, people affected with essential tremor often avoid eating out, attending parties, and participating in other social functions," Jankovic says.

    Social phobia, or fear of public situations, affects up to one-third of patients with essential tremor, according to Schneier's study reported in the May issue of Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. This study compared 94 patients with essential tremor, followed in a movement disorder clinic, with 85 people without essential tremor, who were living in the community.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    nerve damage
    Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
    senior woman with lost expression
    Know the early warning signs.
     
    woman in art gallery
    Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
    medical marijuana plant
    What is it used for?
     
    senior man
    Article
    boy hits soccer ball with head
    Slideshow
     
    red and white swirl
    Article
    marijuana plant
    ARTICLE
     
    brain illustration stroke
    Slideshow
    nerve damage
    Slideshow
     
    Alzheimers Overview
    Slideshow
    Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
    Quiz