If your doctor tells you that you have essential tremor, this fact sheet will help you talk about the treatments that may help.
Neurologists from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) are doctors who treat diseases of the brain and central nervous
system. They believe you should know about the safe and effective treatments for essential tremor. These treatments can
improve your quality of life, but they do have side effects.
Neurologists reviewed all of the studies for treatment of essential tremor. They made suggestions that will help doctors treat
people with essential tremor more successfully. In some cases, they found there is not enough information to decide
whether a treatment works and is safe. In some cases, they found there are treatments that should not be used for tremor.
Essential tremor is a common neurological disorder. It is
caused by a poorly understood disturbance of brain function.
People with essential tremor experience shaking they
Essential tremor can affect:
• The limbs, causing tremor in the hands and arms
• The head
• The vocal cords, making the voice sound shaky
Essential tremor occurs when the muscles are used. Unlike
Parkinson tremor, essential tremor is usually not present
when the limbs are relaxed.
Tremor often begins in early adulthood. It may become
more noticeable as people get older. Since tremor occurs
during movement—such as while writing or eating—people
may find it bothersome and embarrassing.
There is no cure for essential tremor, but there are treatments
that give relief and improve quality of life. These include
drug therapies and surgical procedures. The treatment
chosen will depend on the severity of tremor and the
side effects of each treatment.
If the tremor interferes with your work or other daily activities,
drugs may help. Neurologists looked at data for several drugs.
Many people with tremor benefit from drug therapy.
A decision to use drugs will depend on other medical
conditions you have and potential side effects. Your doctor
should discuss any serious side effects with you.
If you have tremor in your hands and arms, there is strong*
evidence supporting the use of propranolol, primidone, or
long acting propranolol. These drugs should be offered to
people with hand and arm tremor. If taking one of these
drugs alone does not sufficiently reduce your tremor, your
doctor may prescribe a combination of drugs. Your doctor
will monitor how well these drugs are working; your dosage
may need to be adjusted.
There is also good* evidence that the following medications
are probably effective and may be helpful. They should be
considered when propranolol and primidone are not adequate:
• Sotalol and atenolol—these drugs are typically used to
regulate blood pressure; however they can be used as
substitutes to propranolol and primidone.
• Gabapentin and topiramate—these drugs are typically
used to treat seizures.
the nervous system. This medication may be habit-
forming or have other serious side effects and should
be taken with caution.
tremor, but may cause non-permanent weakness of the limb
muscles. They may be considered for hard-to-manage tremor
of the hand and arm.
Neurologists found that there are several drugs not
recommended for treating essential tremor. There are also
some drugs where there was not enough data to make a
decision about their effectiveness and safety. If you have
questions, discuss these drugs with your doctor.
guideline recommendations to assist with decision-making in patient care. It is based on an assessment of current scientific and clinical information,
and is not intended to exclude any reasonable alternative methodologies. The AAN recognizes that specific patient care decisions are the prerogative
of the patient and the physician caring for the patient, based on the circumstances involved. Physicians are encouraged to carefully review the
full AAN guidelines so they understand all recommendations associated with care of these patients.
*After the experts review all of the studies, they describe how strong or weak the data are.
ineffective, or harmful.
If you have head tremor, there is good* evidence
supporting the use of propranolol.
Moderate* evidence shows that botulinum toxin A
injections are possibly effective and may be considered
for hard-to-manage head tremor and voice tremor.
If your tremor is severely disabling and drugs do not relieve
your symptoms, surgery may be an option. Two types of
surgery are used to treat essential tremor. They are deep
affect the thalamus. This is a cluster of nerve cells deep in
Your doctor should discuss potential side effects of these
treatments with you. The decision to use these procedures
depends on your condition and the risk for complications
compared to potential successful outcomes.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS)
In DBS, an electric probe (electrode) is placed in the thalamus.
A wire from the electrode is routed beneath the skin to
a pacemaker device implanted near your collarbone. The
pacemaker and electrode stimulate the thalamus with
pulses of electricity. This blocks the brain activity that causes
tremor. Only special centers perform this procedure.
Evidence shows that DBS is effective and may used to treat
people who experience hard-to-manage limb tremor. The
experts did not find enough data to make recommendations
for the use of DBS to treat head or voice tremor. DBS has
fewer side effects than thalamotomy.
During this surgery, a lesion is placed on a small part of
the thalamus. This interferes with the abnormal brain activity
that causes the tremor. This is typically done on only one
side of the brain.
Evidence shows that thalamotomy surgery on one side of
the brain may be effective and used to treat a limb tremor
that cannot be controlled by medication. Thalamotomy
on both sides of the brain is not recommended because
of high risk of disabling side effects.
Readers should be aware that it is difficult to study surgical
therapies in the same way as other medical therapies. It is
difficult to design a study where neither the physician nor
the patient knows if the patient went through the real surgical
procedure or a comparison (sham) procedure. Therefore,
the evidence that DBS or thalamotomy successfully treats
limb tremor is weakened by the research methods involved.
Gamma knife surgery
Because there was not enough data available, the panel
could not make recommendations for the use of a non-
invasive procedure called gamma knife thalamotomy,
which uses radiation.
Talk to your neurologist
It is best to see a doctor who has experience with tremor
and movement disorders for diagnosis. You should have
a thorough evaluation by a neurologist. He or she will exam-
ine the parts of your body that are shaking and determine
if essential tremor or some another condition is the cause.
Not every treatment works for every patient. Your doctor
will recommend an individualized treatment plan, including
lifestyle changes that may reduce your tremor. A treatment
decision will depend on other medical conditions you have
and potential side effects. Your doctor should discuss
serious side effects, if any. All treatments have some side
effects; the choice of which side effects can be tolerated
depends on the individual.