Skip to Main Content

BLOG - Are Essential Tremors Hereditary?

Movement disorders are a group of neurological conditions that cause irregular body movements. Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome are two of the most well-known movement disorders, but this group also includes other conditions such as essential tremors.

Thankfully, essential tremors won’t shorten your lifespan, but they can interfere with your ability to use utensils, brush your teeth, get dressed, type, or demonstrate other fine motor skills. Our neurology specialists here at Ventura Neuroscience Center in Oxnard, California, encourage you to reach out if you’re concerned about movement disorders or if you have questions about your treatment options.

Below, we answer one of the most common questions related to essential tremors: are they hereditary?

Are essential tremors hereditary?

Yes, essential tremors can be passed from generation to generation as a result of a genetic mutation, and about half of all essential tremor cases are genetic. These are called familial tremors. Essential tremors are a type of autosomal dominant disorder. This means that it only takes one defective gene from one parent to pass on this movement disorder to a child. In other words, if only one of your parents has a gene mutation for essential tremors, you have a 50% chance of developing the condition yourself.

In addition to familial tremors, some people develop this condition even without any family history of the condition. Another risk factor for essential tremors is age. These tremors are more common in people over the age of 40.

Can you prevent essential tremors?

If you’ve inherited essential tremors from a parent, there isn’t any way to avoid it. However, there are strategies you can implement to reduce the intensity and frequency of your tremors. More specifically, learning to identify (and avoid) your triggers can help you prevent the tremors from worsening. Stress, heightened emotion, low blood sugar, caffeine, and physical exhaustion are all triggers that can increase tremor severity. 

You can also use tools and assistive devices to assist with your everyday tasks that are made more difficult by the tremors. Examples include:

  • Cut-resistant gloves for cooking
  • ELIspoon, which is FDA-approved
  • Automatic jar openers
  • Shirts with magnetic buttons for easier dressing
  • Weighted blankets (which improves sleep for those with movement disorders)
  • Speech-to-text software for easier typing
  • Weighted bases for pens

In addition to lifestyle modifications and the use of assistive devices, medications, including beta-blockers, can also help reduce the intensity and frequency of your tremors.

What if you spot the signs of essential tremors?

If you know essential tremors run in your family, it’s important to schedule yourself for a neurological exam as soon as you spot the signs of essential tremors. This exam can rule out other conditions, help our team reach an accurate diagnosis, and get you started with a treatment plan that works for you.

You might suspect you have the early signs of essential tremors if the tremors:

  • Start in your hands
  • Worsen with movement
  • Affect your head (your head shakes in a  "yes-yes" or "no-no" pattern)
  • Are triggered or intensified by caffeine, extreme heat or cold, emotional stress, and fatigue

Currently, researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke are studying the effectiveness of new potential treatments, but other treatments may also help you manage the tremors. These include medications, physical therapy, eliminating triggers, and deep brain stimulation.