What causes tremor? 18 possible conditions

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What Is a Tremor?

A tremor is an unintentional and uncontrollable rhythmic movement of one part of your body. A tremor can occur in any part of the body at any time. It is usually the result of a problem in the part of the brain that controls your muscles. Although tremors are not always serious, in some cases they may indicate a serious disorder. Most tremors cannot be treated, but will often go away on their own.

It’s important to note that muscle spasms, muscle twitches, and tremors are not the same thing. A muscle spasm is the involuntary contraction of a muscle. A muscle twitch is an uncontrolled fine movement of a small part of a larger muscle. This twitch may be visible under the skin.

Types of Tremors

Tremors are divided into two types: resting or action.

Resting tremors occur when you are sitting or lying still. Once you begin to move around, you will notice that the tremor goes away. Resting tremors often affect only the hands or fingers.

Action tremors occur during movement of the affected body part. Action tremors are further divided into several subcategories:

  • An intention tremor occurs during targeted movement, such as touching your finger to your nose.
  • A postural tremor occurs when holding a position against gravity, such as holding your arm or leg outstretched.
  • Task-specific tremors occur during a specific activity, such as writing.
  • Kinetic tremors occur during movement of a body part, such as moving your wrist up and down.
  • Isometric tremors occur during the voluntary contraction of a muscle without other movement of the muscle.

Categories of Tremor

In addition to type, tremors are also classified by their appearance and cause.

Essential tremors are the most common type of movement disorder. Essential tremors are usually postural- or intention-type tremors. Essential tremors may be mild and nonprogressive or may slowly progress, starting on one side, and then affecting both sides within a few years.

Essential tremors were thought not to be associated with any disease processes; however, recent studies have connected them to mild degeneration in the cerebellum (the part of the brain that controls motor movement). Essential tremors are often associated with mild walking difficulty and hearing disability, and tend to run in families.

A Parkinsonian tremor is usually a resting tremor and is often the first sign of Parkinson’s disease. It is caused by damage to parts of the brain that control movement. The onset is usually after age 60. It begins in one limb or on one side of the body, and then progresses to the other side.

Dystonic tremors occur irregularly and can be relieved by complete rest. They occur in people affected by dystonia—a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause twisting and repetitive motions or abnormal postures, such as twisting of the neck. These can occur at any age.

A cerebellar tremor is a type of intention tremor caused by lesions or damage to the cerebellum from a stroke, tumor, or disease, such as multiple sclerosis. It may also be the result of chronic alcoholism or overuse of certain medications.

A psychogenic tremor may present as any of the tremor types. It is characterized by sudden onset and remission, changes in the direction of the tremor and the body part affected, and greatly decreased activity when the individual is distracted. Patients with psychogenic tremors often have conversion disorder (a psychological condition that produces physical symptoms) or another psychiatric disease.

Orthostatic tremors are rapid, rhythmic muscle contractions that occur immediately after standing. They are often perceived as unsteadiness. There are no other clinical signs or symptoms, and the unsteadiness stops when the person sits, is lifted, or starts walking.

Physiologic tremors are generally caused by a reaction to certain drugs, alcohol withdrawal, or medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or an overactive thyroid gland. They usually go away when the cause is eliminated.

What Causes Tremors to Develop?

Prescription medications, diseases, injuries, stress, and caffeine can all cause tremors.

The most common causes of tremors are:

  • muscle fatigue
  • ingesting too much caffeine
  • stress
  • aging
  • low blood sugar levels

Medical conditions that cause tremors include:

  • stroke
  • traumatic brain injury
  • Parkinson’s disease (a degenerative disease caused by loss of dopamine-producing brain cells)
  • multiple sclerosis (a condition in which your immune system attacks your brain and spinal cord)
  • alcoholism
  • hyperthyroidism (when the body produces too much thyroid hormone)

Are All Tremors Dangerous?

Sometimes, tremors are perfectly normal. When you’re under a lot of stress or experiencing anxiety or fear, tremors may occur. Once the feeling subsides, the tremor usually stops. Tremors are often part of medical disorders that affect the brain, nervous system, or muscles.

If you develop unexplained tremors that occur frequently, you should see your doctor for diagnosis.

How Are Tremors Diagnosed?

During a physical examination, the doctor will observe the affected area. Tremors are apparent upon visual inspection; however, the cause of the tremor cannot be diagnosed until further tests are performed. Your doctor may request that you write or hold an object to evaluate the severity of your tremor. Blood and urine samples are often collected to check for signs of thyroid disease or other disorders.

The doctor may also order a neurological exam. This exam will check the functioning of your nervous system. It will measure your tendon reflexes, coordination, posture, muscle strength, muscle tone, and ability to feel touch. During the exam, you may be asked to touch a finger to your nose, draw a spiral, or perform other tasks or exercises.

In addition, your doctor may order an electromyogram. This test measures involuntary muscle activity and muscle response to nerve stimulation.

How Are Tremors Treated?

Treating the underlying condition causing the tremor may be enough to cure it. However, medications may also be prescribed to treat the tremor itself.

Common medications prescribed to treat tremors are:

  • beta-blockers: Beta-blockers are normally used to treat people with high blood pressure. However, they have been shown to reduce tremors in some people.
  • tranquilizers: Tranquilizers, such as Xanax, may be prescribed to relieve tremors that are triggered by anxiety.
  • anti-seizure medication: Anti-seizure medications are often given to people who cannot take beta-blockers or who are not helped by beta-blockers.

Botox injections may also relieve tremors. These chemical injections are often given to people who have tremors that affect the face and head.

Physical therapy may be offered to help strengthen your muscles and improve your coordination. In addition, tremors may be helped by the use of wrist weights and adaptive devices, such as heavier utensils.

Brain stimulation surgery may be the only option for those with debilitating tremors. During this operation, the surgeon inserts an electrical probe into the portion of your brain responsible for the tremors. Once the probe is in place, a wire is fed from the probe into your chest, under your skin. The surgeon places a small device in your chest and attaches the wire to it. This device sends pulses to the probe, which stops the brain from producing tremors.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder. It first presents with problems of movement. Smooth and coordinated muscle movements of the body are made possible by a substance in the brain calle...

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2

Essential Tremor

Autism is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by impaired communication, impaired social interaction, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests...

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3

Drug Induced Tremor

A drug-induced tremor is a tremor that is caused by taking a drug. A tremor is a movement disorder that consists of rhythmic, uncontrollable movement of parts of your body. The shaking movement created by tremors i...

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4

Caffeine Overdose

You're at risk for caffeine overdose when you ingest more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine (about three 8-oz cups of coffee) in a day. Dizziness, diarrhea, headache, and severe thirst may occur.

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5

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It occurs when you drink so much over time that your body becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol use becomes the most important thing i...

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6

Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity, from mild discomfort to complete disability.

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7

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Drinking too much alcohol, or being unable to control consumption, can indicate alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Too much alcohol in the blood or having withdrawal can lead to serious mental and physical symptoms.

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8

Sepsis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

One life-threatening complication of infection is sepsis, which often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems. Patches of discolored skin is a symptom of severe sepsis.

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9

Adrenergic Bronchodilators Overdose

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An overdose happens when you take too much of a drug. Whether intentional or accidental, drug overdoses can be life threatening. Adrenergic bronchodilators overdose is when a person has taken too much of a certain typ...

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10

Graves' Disease

Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder that leads to hyperthyroidism and causes thyroid swelling.

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11

Painful Menstrual Periods

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for women in which the body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb), which is then passed through a small opening in the cervix and out through the vaginal canal. Some pain, cramping...

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12

Huntington's Disease

Huntington's disease is a hereditary condition in which your brain's nerve cells gradually break down. This affects your physical movements, emotions, and cognitive abilities. There is no cure, but there are ways t...

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13

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of viral pneumonia. The disease is relatively new; the virus that causes SARS was first identified in 2003. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated SAR...

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14

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy can give birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These disorders range from mild to severe. They can be behavioral, physical, related to learning, or all of th...

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15

Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) is the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. It causes sudden and severe problems in your brain and nervous system. Approximately five percent of hospital patients being treated fo...

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16

Phenylketonuria

Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare genetic condition in which the body cannot break down the essential amino acid phenylalanine . Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Phenylalanine is found in all proteins an...

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17

As Rare as it Gets: Chediak Higashi Syndrome

Chediak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is an extremely rare form of partial albinism that is accompanied by problems in the immune and nervous systems. Albinism is a lack of color in the skin, hair, and eyes. This specific typ...

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18

Hallervorden-Spatz Disease

Hallervorden-Spatz disease (HSD) is an inherited neurological disorder. It causes issues with movement. A rare disease, it is a serious condition that worsens over time. HSD can be fatal.HSD, sometimes referred to a...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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