About Essential Tremor

Often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor is very common. In fact, 1 in 5 people over age 65 may have it.1


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 perform simple tasks 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. As many as one in 20 people older than age 40 and one in five people over 65 may have essential tremor.1 Although the average age of onset for essential tremor is 40, ET may first appear at any age between childhood and old age.2


Essential tremor is characterised 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. What is Essential Tremor? Available at: www.essentialtremor.org. Accessed July 14, 2008.
  2. At what age does ET start? Available at: www.essentialtremor.org. Accessed July 14, 2008.

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: 27 Sep 2010

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