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A familial tremor is an involuntary rhythmic movement of the hands and head that tends to run in families. Several genes have been identified as potential culprits in the inheritance of tremors. Although a familial tremor can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, it is not dangerous and does not signal an underlying problem with the brain like Parkinson's disease, the neurological condition most people associate with tremors.
Tremors of the head and hands are known as essential tremors, and familial tremors are an example of benign essential tremor, referencing the fact that it is not reflective of a malignant condition. This condition usually onsets in middle age or older, although sometimes people are younger when they first develop tremors. People may notice that the shaking waxes and wanes over time and in response to different activities.
Familial tremors tend to be most pronounced while the person is sleeping. It can be worst when the patient is trying to engage in physical activity like writing or buttoning a shirt. Over time, this may make it difficult for the patient to complete daily tasks. Assistive devices such as pens designed for people with tremors are available, along with products like button-holers that can be used to guide buttons through the holes of shirts for people who have trouble doing this on their own.
Emotional stress can increase the intensity of a familial tremor, and it is possible to develop this type of tremor and to later have another neurological problem that creates a different tremor. Treatment options are limited, as the tremor is caused by changes to the way the brain functions. Patients usually work on developing adaptations. Some go to speech therapy to learn to talk while dealing with facial tremors. The speech therapist can work with the patient on forming sounds and words and identifying sounds the patient has particular trouble with so the patient can work around them.
People with a history of tremors in their families are at risk of developing a familial tremor, but it is not guaranteed. Genetic testing is being used to identify the genes involved, and the potential for tests to see if tremor will develop is a possibility. People can think about planning ahead when it comes to things like designing the layout of their homes to eliminate problems such as light switches that are hard to control or drawer pulls too small to grasp with shaking hands. Technology to help people with tremors, such as oversized remotes with big buttons that are easy to activate, is another useful thing to think about when planning ahead for the development of a tremor.