Why Are My Hands Shaky?

Perhaps the shaking began recently. Or maybe it’s growing worse. It probably started gradually. It may have happened when you were stressed or angry. Or illness could have brought it on.

Whatever the cause, “tremor” is the name experts give to those shaky hands (and sometimes voice, head, mouth, and feet). They’re more common than you might think, and the causes and outcomes can be quite varied.

Essential Tremor

Essential Tremor is the most common tremor disorder. It usually starts in your hands, but it can move to your arms, head, voice, or other body parts.

ET is different because it affects your hands when they’re already moving. Most other forms of tremor take place when you’re still.

It could result from a gene (your doctor may call this a mutation). That means if one of your parents has a tremor, you’re more likely to get one, too.

Toxins in the environment cause some cases. But more research is needed to better understand the connections.

Age is another risk factor. Although Essential Tremor can happen at any age, it’s more likely in people over 40. Your odds go up as you get older.

ET isn’t life-threatening, but it can get more severe over time. Stress, fatigue, and too much caffeine can worsen it. At some point, eating, drinking, writing, and all the other daily tasks you do with your hands can become a bigger challenge.

This condition can be hard to treat. There are medications, but none works consistently. Surgery is an option, as is a treatment called deep brain stimulation, in which doctors implant a device in your brain to help control the tremors. If shaky hands are a problem for you, ask your doctor if this might help. Learn more about deep brain stimulation to treat essential tremor.

Parkinson’s Disease

Tremor is an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, which affects 10 million people worldwide. Not everyone who has this disease gets shaky, but most people in the early stages will have slight movement in a hand, foot, or even a single finger

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Most of the time, the tremor affects only one side of your body. Most often, it happens when you relax your muscles. That’s why it’s called a resting tremor.

When you move, the shaking stops. Even a little flex of your fingers can help. As with other types of tremors, stress or excitement can make it worse.

As you live with the disease, the tremor may spread from one side of your body to the other. Learn more about Parkinson's tremors.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

This disease, which targets your immune system, brain, nerves, and spinal cord, can also make your hands shake. You’re most likely to have a tremor in your hand or foot. MS can cause a variety of tremors. The most common, like Essential Tremor, happens when you’re already moving. Learn more about tremors with multiple sclerosis.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Tremor is one of the first signs. If you weren’t too hooked, the shakes may last just a few days. If you drank a lot, or for a long time, they can go on for a year or even longer. Learn more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

It Isn’t Always a Disease

Shaky hands don’t always mean you’re ill. Sometimes a tremor is your body’s response to something:

Drugs : The most common culprits are medications that block a brain chemical called dopamine. It moves information from one part of your brain to another. These drugs are used to keep your mood even. The tremors will go away when you stop taking the drugs.

B12 deficiency: Without it, your nervous system won’t work like it should. You can find it in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk products. If you’re getting so little that your hands shake, your doctor will give you a shot.

Caffeine: A cup of coffee or tea may cause your hands to shake.

Stress: From financial and job worries to relationship problems and health concerns, stress worsens tremors. Intense anger, extreme hunger, or sleep deprivation can all make your hands shake. This is known as physiologic tremor.

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Low blood sugar: Your doctor will call this hypoglycemia. It triggers your body’s natural stress response and makes you shaky.

An overactive thyroid: This gland is in your neck, just above your collarbone. When it’s in overdrive, your whole body speeds up. You may have trouble sleeping, your heart may beat faster, and your hands might shake.

Nerve damage: Injury, disease, or a problem with your central nervous system can also cause tremors. Your doctor will call this peripheral neuropathy. It can affect your hands and feet.

Because the causes and treatments vary widely for different types of tremors, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your history and symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky on September 27, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Louis, E. Neuroepidemiology, published online Aug. 21, 2008.

Mayo Clinic: “Essential Tremor.”

National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference: “What is a gene mutation and how do mutations occur?”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Definition of MS,” “Tremor.”

Columbia University department of neurology: “New Research Says Essential Tremor May Be a Whole Family of Diseases.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “What is Essential Tremor?”

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation: “Primary Motor Symptoms,” “Progression,” “Statistics on Parkinson’s.”

Trevisan, L. Alcohol Health & Research World, 1998.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Tremor Fact Sheet.”

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin B12.”

EndocrineWeb: “Hyperthyroidism Overview: Overactive Thyroid Makes Too Much Thyroid Hormone.”

National Institutes of Health: "Thyroid Diseases."

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