As we age, especially past the age of 60 or 65, it seems our hands can shake slightly when we’re trying to act with them. Many people simply associate this with the slackening of the muscles that are a part of aging. These shaky hands are commonly referred to as hand tremors.
Hand tremor isn’t life-threatening, and it may not even be worth worrying about, but it can make simple tasks like writing a grocery list difficult. These tremors can also be an early warning sign of serious neurological and degenerative conditions. That’s why if you start experiencing hand tremors, you need to call the experienced team at Texas Neurosurgery so we can check them out.
What are these hand tremors?
When people see a person whose hands are slightly shaking, they often think of Parkinson’s disease. But in most cases, the shaking is due to what is called essential tremor.
Essential tremor is the most common neurologic disorder affecting adults. Despite this prevalence, it’s not well understood. The likely cause is a disruption in the normal functioning of the cerebellum, but researchers aren’t sure if it’s due to degeneration. And they don’t know what causes the interruption.
In those with essential tremor, the shaking can’t be controlled and occurs in the hands, arms, head, and sometimes even the vocal cords (if you’re old enough, think Katherine Hepburn in later life).
Essential tremor is different than Parkinson’s. People with Parkinson’s experience hand tremors when their muscles are at rest. Unlike essential tremor, this shaking decreases when a person with Parkinson’s uses their muscles. When a person with essential tremor uses his or her muscles, the tremors become more pronounced, such as when extending an arm. The tremors usually don’t occur when the muscles are at rest.
How we treat essential tremor?
There is no cure for essential tremor if we find that is the cause of your shaking hands. At Texas Neurosurgery, we prescribe various medications for patients with essential tremor. We may try propranolol, sotalol, or atenolol, which are beta blockers designed to treat arrhythmia and hypertension. We may use primidone, gabapentin, or topiramate, which are anti-seizure medications. Some success has been shown with alprozolam, an anti-anxiety drug, and even Botox, which stops muscles from contracting.
Surgery is a last resort and only an option when the tremors impact normal life. Deep brain stimulation, where an electrode is placed in the brain that interferes with the brain activity responsible for the tremors, is one option. Another is a thalamotomy, where we create a small lesion in the brain’s thalamus. This interrupts the brain’s normal electrical activity and reduces or stops the tremors.