Tremors in the hands and arms are an involuntary shaking. Tremors can happen in any part of the body, but mostly affect the hands and arms. The disorder afflicts any age group, but is most common in older people.
There is a variety of reasons for tremors to occur including too much coffee or caffeine, normal aging, stress, fatigue, low blood sugar, alcoholism or alcohol withdrawal. Other causes may include multiple sclerosis, brain injury, stroke or brain cancer.
Arm and hand tremors begin gradually starting in the hands first. They may worsen with movement, stress, fatigue and extremes in temperature. Hand and arm tremors may be mistaken for Parkinson's disease, but the involuntary shaking is different. Hand tremors typically occur when the hands are in use, but in Parkinson's disease, shaking occurs when hands are resting.
Hand and arm tremors are not life threatening, but shaking can get worse over time and make normal routines difficult. You may have problems holding or drinking from a glass, putting on makeup or shaving, writing and eating.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and check whether the tremors occur during movement or at rest. He will check your tendon reflexes, muscle tone and strength, sensory loss and any muscle atrophy. Blood tests may be taken to check for thyroid disease or chemical reactions to any drugs you may be taking.
Your doctor may have you perform tests so he can evaluate your skill in drinking from a glass, drawing, writing and holding your arms outstretched for a period of time.
Mild hand and arm tremors may need no treatment, but if shaking is causing problems in your life, medications are available. Beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure may relieve tremors. Drugs such as Valium or Xanax may help people with tremors caused by anxiety or stress. These drugs need to be closely monitored because of their risk of dependence. Anti-seizure medications such as Neurontin may help reduce the incidence of tremors.
Physical therapy may reduce tremors and help with muscle coordination. Using heavier utensils and plates, wrist weights and bigger writing pens or pencils may help reduce the effect of hand and arm tremors.
Avoid caffeine and limit alcohol consumption as they contribute to tremors. Try to relax and become more stress free by listening to music, taking naps, reading or taking a long soak in the tub. Exercise by walking, running or swimming as these activities may help you rest better at night.