When essential tremor (ET) significantly interferes with daily activities, long-term drug treatment is needed. Drugs most commonly used to treat essential tremor include beta-blockers (propranolol) and an epilepsy drug called Mysoline (primidone). Topamax (topiramate), another drug used to treat epilepsy and migraine help some people.
With the use of medication, people with essential tremor may see improvement in their ability to control their tremor and improvement in activities such as drinking from a cup or using food utensils. More specialized motor functions, such as being able to thread a needle, may still be too difficult. However, for most people, essential tremor is not disabling.
A seizure occurs when there’s abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures may go virtually unnoticed. Or, in severe cases, they may produce a change or loss of consciousness and involuntary muscle spasms called convulsions. Seizures usually come on suddenly and vary in duration and severity. A seizure may be a one-time event, or you may have seizures repeatedly. Recurrent seizures are called epilepsy, or a seizure disorder. Less than one in 10 people who has a seizure develops epilepsy.
Your health care provider will determine, which treatment is best for you based on your medical history. The goal of treatment is to provide maximum improvement in function while minimizing the side effects of the medication you are taking.
For people with mild essential tremor, drug therapy is usually not necessary. Tremors may be lessened by minimizing exposure to emotional stress and avoiding substances, such as caffeine and nicotine, which may increase tremor. In social situations, a person with mild tremor can take a beta-blocker or drink a small amount of alcohol, if such treatments are approved by a doctor. Although alcohol may lessen the tremor, there is the danger of slowly increasing your intake and this must be done infrequently.
Beta-Blockers for Essential Tremor
The beta-blocker Inderal (propranolol) has been used to treat essential tremor for more than 40 years. Other beta-blockers such as Lopressor also may be effective.
It is not clear how Inderal reduces tremors, but the drug may work by blocking nerve impulses to the muscles. Approximately 50% to 60% of people taking Inderal experience some improvement in function, but total tremor suppression usually is not achieved. The greatest improvement is in hand and voice tremors. The drugs may be taken once a day (for longer-acting formulation) or twice a day depending upon the formulation used.
Side Effects of Beta-Blockers
Beta-blockers are not right for everyone with essential tremor. Side effects of beta-blockers may include:
Slowing heart rate
Drop in blood pressure
Some of these side effects may require that the treatment be stopped.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you:
Have asthma or other bronchial conditions (beta-blockers may cause or worsen asthma symptoms)
Have coronary artery disease or certain heart arrhythmias
While you are taking Inderal, your health care provider will monitor your heart rate and blood pressure regularly. In general, Inderal works over a long period of time to suppress tremors; however, nearly 10% of people will develop tolerance to the drug after a year. This means that the drug stops being effective when given in the same dose as when you began treatment. In this case your doctor will suggest another medication or treatment.