BENIGN ESSENTIAL TREMORS

If your hands or head shake, check with a neurologist. Most commonly, you will have a harmless condition called benign essential tremors.

Shaking can be caused by stimulants that your body produces during excitement, anxiety, fear, and when you blood sugar is low; by stimulants in foods such as coffee, tea, chocolate and colas; and drugs such as those used to treat asthma, hyperactivity, depression, mania and allergies; by vigorous exercise and fatigue, and by diseases such as parkinsonism and an overactive thyroid. The most common cause of shaking is a harmless condition called benign essential tremors. The disease occurs in families and usually starts after puberty and continues throughout life. Usually, those with benign essential tremor shake only with movement and have lousy handwriting, while those with Parkinsonism shake both at rest and when they move.

People with benign essential tremors are often embarrassed by their condition because they know that most onlookers think that they shake because they are nervous. Most learn rather quickly that they can control their shaking by drinking alcohol, but their shaking worsens after the effects of alcohol wear off. The vast majority can control their shaking almost completely when they take a class of drugs called beta blockers, such as propranolol, starting off at 10 mg four times a day and increasing the dose if they need to do so.

By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News Checked 12/09/03

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