Essential tremor: Is the word “essential” really essential?

Abhishek Lenka, Elan D. Louis

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Essential tremor (ET) is among the common movement disorders. A surge in research in recent years has considerably improved our understanding of disease etiology and pathogenesis, and its associated clinical phenomenology and natural history. With this progress have emerged a multitude of new questions and conundrums and newly proposed terminologies. Amidst these various related discussions, it is worth revisiting the essence of the nomenclature, “essential tremor”, to assess how well it continues to fit the growing understanding of this entity. Here we revisit the historical underpinnings of the nomenclature, its accuracy, pitfalls of eliminating the word, and advantages of removing the word. There are two primary historical bases for using the word “essential”: (i) idiopathic or unclear etiology, (ii) a unitary (single-featured) trait perceived as a constitutional feature. Numerous studies indicate that ET is neither truly idiopathic nor is fully isolated, making the use of “essential” technically incorrect. There are pitfalls and advantages of eliminating the term “essential” and both are succinctly described in this article. Yet in the absence of any flawless alternatives at present, we conclude that it is preferable for now to persist with “essential” tremor, thereby respecting the historical continuity of this one-and-a-half-century old nomenclature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-105
Number of pages3
JournalParkinsonism and Related Disorders
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Essential
  • Essential tremor
  • Movement disorders
  • Tremor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Clinical Neurology


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