Essential tremor is one of the most common of neurological movement disorders affecting about 5% of the population over age 40. Like Parkinson's disease, essential tremor is characterized by tremors. Unlike Parkinson disease, which is characterized by tremors occurring at rest, essential tremor it is associated with postural and action tremors, which interfere with activities such as writing, eating and performing fine motor movements. Tremor can also occur in the neck, legs, voice, or tongue. Essential tremor can occur at any age. Essential tremor can be mild and pose very little problem to a patient, or it can become progressively more severe and result in severe disability.

The cause of essential tremor is unknown. In many cases, essential tremor strongly runs in families. Research data point to genetic changes as the biggest underlying contributors to essential tremor; however, no specific causal genes have been clearly identified so far. This is an active area of research at Emory and many other centers.

Diagnosing Essential Tremor

The diagnosis of essential tremor depends primarily on recognition of the typical clinical features by an experienced clinician who has been trained to recognize the characteristic manifestations. The physician may also request the patient make certain movements or observe the patient's movements and physical behavior. It is important that the doctor diagnosing essential tremor is familiar with related neurological conditions to aid in eliminating other conditions or disorders, such as Parkinson disease.

Essential Tremor and Dystonia Diagnostic Services

The Emory Clinic Movement Disorders Center offers a broad range of diagnostic procedures to accurately identify a specific movement disorder. Neurologists at the center are experts in neurological movement disorders and their diagnosis. The Movement Disorders Center is equipped with the latest innovations in diagnostic tools to aid our physicians in identifying a patient's movement disorder, including computerized motion analysis. In addition, our physicians are highly trained to further analyze the nature of a patient's condition to help design an effective treatment plan.

Essential Tremor Treatments

The Movement Disorders Center provides essential tremor treatments that include medicine, surgery, rehabilitation such as physical therapy for gait and balance, and psychiatric services for movement disorder patients, including those with essential tremor. Surgical treatment for essential tremor is provided through the Emory Functional Neurosurgery Program. Emory has skilled neurologists who offer botulinum toxin injections for limb and neck tremor when indicated. In essential tremor, botulinum toxin therapy is primarily used for vocal tremors, treated at the Emory Voice Center.