Normally, our hands shake very, very slightly all the time we are awake. This is because the tiny muscle fibres in our hands and arms constantly contract and relax at random. It is only when shakiness of our hands begins to interfere with writing, holding a cup of coffee or using a knife and fork that it becomes a problem. When people notice their hands are shaky, they often start to worry that they have Parkinson’s disease, but this is usually not the case.
Common causes of shaky hands
- Essential tremor is unusual in young people, but affects 1 in 20 of the population over the age of 40.
- It tends to run in families, so some of your close relatives may also have it.
- It usually affects the hands, often the head, and sometimes the voice and other parts of the body as well.
- It becomes worse when you use your hands to do something, such as picking up a small object, or if you try to maintain a position, such as holding a cup steady. If you rest your hands quietly on your lap, the shaking usually stops.
- It is uncontrollable and does not mean you are ‘nervy’ or ‘neurotic’ (although, frustratingly, it becomes worse when you are anxious).
- An alcoholic drink often improves it, but obviously you should not overdo this remedy.
- If the shaking is really troublesome, your doctor can prescribe a drug such as a beta-blocker or primidone. Avoid too much coffee and strong tea.
Less common causes
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 26th 2010
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