Hand tremors is the most common type of movement disorder, according to a 2011 study in American Family Physician. And your hands are the most likely part of your body to suffer.
A hand tremor can stem from a number of underlying causes, ranging from diseases like Parkinson’s to a benign caffeine overload. There are several causes for hand tremor, and to tell one from another.
Hand: Essential Tremor
By far the most common form is chronic hand tremor, 4% of the population, may experience it. Essential tremor is a shaking that comes on when you’re trying to perform some kind of work or action with your hands. For example, picking up a glass.
It can be mild, almost unnoticeable, or so pronounced that you can’t complete daily tasks. But there’s one easy way to tell if what you’re experiencing is essential tremor: Have a stiff drink. If you do and the tremor goes away, there’s your diagnosis right there.
In fact, drinking has long been a way for people with essential tremor to manage their shaking.
If the tremors get worse, medications may help. Beta blockers or anticonvulsants may help. In extreme cases, non-invasive ultrasound surgery has worked.
Hand: Parkinson’s Disease
While essential tremor is apparent when your hands are active, the type of hand movement associated with Parkinson’s is called a “rest tremor” because it shows up when the hands are idle.
Also, while essential tremor looks more like shaking, the type of tremor associated with Parkinson’s often has a kind of rhythmic quality to it, he says. For many patients, the tremor starts as a kind of “pill rolling” motion between the thumb and index finger.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease in which certain brain cells gradually die off. While it’s not well understood why that cell die-off starts, it leads to a shortage of the brain chemical dopamine. This chemical shortage eventually produces tremors, as well as other motor symptoms like facial tics, poor posture, and difficulty speaking.
Parkinson’s tends to show up in the elderly; age 60+, although a small percentage of patients develop it younger. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but medications and physical activity can help.
Every person has a very mild, basically invisible form of tremor that results from their heart beat, blood flow, and other processes going on inside their bodies. This is called a physiologic tremor. But under certain conditions, this tremor can become more pronounced.
One of those situations: periods of high stress or anxiety. If your hands or voice have ever started shaking before a public speaking engagement, you’ve experienced this sort of tremor, which is known as “enhanced physiologic tremor.
Stress-relief activities like meditation, yoga, or listening to music, as well as anti-anxiety meds, can help.
Just as stress can heighten your normally undetectable physiologic tremor, so can caffeine. If you notice your hands shaking after coffee or other sources of caffeine, it’s time to cut back,or switch to half-caffeine.
Caffeine can also make essential tremor more noticeable. If you think your tremors are more than a simple caffeine overload, let your doctor know about it.
Like stress and caffeine, some medications,notably, asthma medications like bronchodilators, can lead to hand tremors. Amphetamines, some statins, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can also cause hand tremor.
If you notice your tremors after using your meds, or if the shaking seemed to come on when you started on a new prescription, try an alternative drug that will eliminate the shaking.
Yet another cause of enhanced physiologic tremor is fatigue.
Sleep deprivation or a grueling workout, can increase tremors of the hands and other body parts.
But again, fatigue can also make essential tremor more pronounced. So if your hands always shake, but it becomes really bad when you’re tired or sleep-deprived, get a doctor to check it out.