About Essential Tremor

Often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor is very common. An estimated 10 million Americans have essential tremor.1 If essential tremor is affecting your ability to live your normal life, a therapy from Medtronic may be able to help manage your symptoms.


Essential tremor (ET) is a movement disorder that usually affects the hands, but can also affect the head, voice, and legs.

Essential tremor is not a life-threatening disease, but it can be a life-altering condition. People with essential tremor often lose the ability to do everyday activities like driving or going to work. Coping with the resulting feelings of isolation can be difficult.

Among more than 20 different kinds of tremor, essential tremor is the most common. Most commonly, essential tremor begins after age 40, but it may first appear at any age between childhood and old age.2


Essential tremor is characterized by rhythmic shaking that occurs during voluntary movement or while holding a position against gravity. Essential tremor is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease.

The two types of tremor include:

  • Action tremor – a voluntary movement such as lifting a cup to one's mouth
  • Postural tremor – a voluntary holding of a position against gravity such as reaching or extending one's hand or arm

Most people with essential tremor experience both postural and action tremor.

Causes and Risk Factors

Essential tremor is the result of abnormal communication between certain areas of the brain, including the cerebellum, thalamus, and brain stem. The cause of essential tremor is unknown, but there is evidence that for some people the disorder is genetic. However, people with no family history of tremor can also develop essential tremor.


  1. Facts about ET. International Essential Tremor Foundation. www.essentialtremor.org. 2011. Accessed September 26, 2011.
  2. Frequently Asked Questions. International Essential Tremor Foundation. www.essentialtremor.org. 2011. Accessed September 26, 2011.


Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 17 Jan 2012

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