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Essential tremor

Other Names for this Disease
  • Benign essential tremor
  • Familial essential tremor
  • Hereditary essential tremor
  • Presenile tremor syndrome
  • Tremor, hereditary essential, 1
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Your Question

How often does essential tremor progress to a severe case? Is it common for essential tremor to involve the head and legs? What rare diseases have similar symptoms as essential tremor?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

Does the signs and symptoms of essential tremor tend to worsen overtime? Is it typical for it to cause tremors in the head and legs?

Essential tremor is a disorder of the nervous system that causes involuntary, rhythmic shaking (tremor).[1] The signs and symptoms of essential tremor often worsen over time, but symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. While it most often affects the hands and arms (one or both), it can also affect the head, voice, chin, legs, and trunk.[2] A recent study reported the following rate of clinical exam findings of tremor in people with essential tremor:[3]

Upper extremities (97%)
Voice (62%) 
Head or neck (48%) 
Lower extremities (9%) 
Chin (9%) 
Trunk (4%) 

Head tremor typically occurs along with other tremor, such as of the hand or voice.[2] Rarely (in severe cases) essential tremor may mildly affect walking and mental proccessing.[2] Factors triggering tremor can vary between people with essential tremor.[2]
Last updated: 5/6/2013

What are the differetial diagnoses for essential tremor?

While not rare, the most common differential diagnosis for essential tremor is parkinsonian tremor.[2] Distinguishing Parkinson disease from essential tremor can be difficult due to overlap in signs and symptoms. In essential tremor, head tremor rarely occurs alone, but when it does cervical dystonia should be ruled out. Likewise, if voice tremor occurs alone (which is rare), spasmodic dysphonia should be ruled out.[2]  
Last updated: 4/29/2013

  • Essential tremor. Genetics Home Reference (GHR). 2008; Accessed 5/5/2013.
  • Tarsy D. Overview of Tremor. In: Basow, DS (Ed), . UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; 2013;
  • Whaley NR, Putzke JD, Baba Y, Wszolek ZK, Uitti RJ.. Essential tremor: phenotypic expression in a clinical cohort. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2007 Aug;13(6):333-9. Epub 2007 Feb 8; Accessed 4/29/2013.