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Quick Facts

Tremor

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is a tremor?

A tremor is part of your body shaking in a way you can’t control.

  • Tremors can happen in your hands, head, or muscles that control your voice, back, belly, or legs

  • A small amount of movement or mild shaking can be normal (for example, if you hold your hands out, they’ll shake a little)

  • Older people may think tremors are just a part of aging, but they can be a sign of something serious and should be checked by a doctor

  • Parkinson disease or a thyroid gland that's too active (hyperthyroidism) can be the cause of some tremors

  • Taking or stopping certain medicines, stopping drinking alcohol (alcohol withdrawal), or feeling stressed can cause tremors

  • Tremors can happen while you're moving or resting

  • Certain types of tremors may run in families

When should I see a doctor?

See a doctor right away if you have a tremor and any of these warning signs:

  • Tremors that started suddenly

  • Changes in your thinking

  • Muscle weakness

  • Changes in the way you walk

  • Trouble talking

  • Feeling nervous or upset (agitated)

See a doctor within a week or two if you have a tremor but no warning signs, particularly if you:

  • Are under 50 years old

  • Don't have a family history of tremor

What causes a tremor?

Tremors can be normal or abnormal. Many disorders can cause tremors.

Tremors can happen when you:

  • Simply hold your hand outstretched—some small degree of movement is normal

  • Feel stressed, worried, or tired

  • Stop drinking alcohol

  • Stop taking certain medicines, such as opioids and benzodiazepines

  • Take certain medicines or drugs, such as albuterol, corticosteroids, or cocaine

  • Eat or drink caffeine, found in foods and drinks including chocolate, soda, or coffee

More serious causes of tremors are:

  • Nervous system problems, which often run in families (called essential tremors)

  • Parkinson disease, which usually cause tremors at rest

  • Stroke

  • Problems in a part of your brain called the cerebellum

Tremors that happen for example, when you reach for something with your hand, are called intention tremors. This type of tremor may happen with a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or other brain problems.

What will happen at my doctor visit?

Doctors will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and health history

  • Do a physical exam

What tests will I need?

Doctors may do brain imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT scan) if:

  • You have warning signs related to your brain, such as changes in your thinking, trouble talking, or muscle weakness

  • Your tremor started suddenly or got worse quickly

Doctors may do blood tests to check your blood sugar level or if your thyroid gland, liver, and kidneys are working normally. These tests may help find the cause of your tremor.

How do doctors treat a tremor?

Doctors will treat the cause of your tremor. If you take medicines that could be causing your tremor, your doctors may be able to adjust your dose.

If your tremor is mild, you may not need treatment. Some simple actions may help, including:

  • Grabbing objects tightly and holding them close to your body to avoid dropping them

  • Avoiding uncomfortable positions

  • Using helpful devices, such as Velcro, straws, and spoons or forks with large handles

To avoid triggers of your tremor:

  • Avoid caffeine (in coffee, soda, chocolate, tea)

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep at night

  • Lower your stress as much as possible

Talk to your doctor about taking medicines to ease your symptoms, such as beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, or sedatives.

If your tremor happens when you reach for things, you may:

  • Work with a therapist to use weights on your wrists to steady the tremor

  • Hold your arm steady while reaching

If your tremor happens when you walk, strapping a weight to your ankle may help steady your leg.