What is an Intention Tremor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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An intention tremor is an involuntary movement of the hands associated with deliberate movements. It's known as an intention tremor because it occurs when people are engaging in purposeful movements, rather than a resting tremor, where the hands shake even when someone doesn't mean to move them. This condition is usually a sign of a problem in the cerebellum, and it is not benign. When a tremor develops, a patient should be evaluated by a neurologist.

This tremor is very easy to spot. As a patient completes a purposeful movement, like reaching to pick up a book, the hand will experience a very broad, slow tremor. This can make it difficult to accurately grasp targets, as things will slip out of reach just as the patient completes the movement. The brain, used to calibrating for situations when fine motor control is present, cannot adjust to the shaking caused by the intention tremor.

This happens when part of the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in the regulation of movement, is damaged. People can develop intention tremors because of lesions like damage caused by strokes and tumors. Alcoholics sometimes experience intention tremors, and this symptom can be associated with multiple sclerosis and other disorders known to cause brain lesions. Management of these tremors can be challenging, as the underlying damage cannot be repaired.


In a medical evaluation, the patient's history can be reviewed for risk factors, and imaging studies of the brain can be taken to see what is happening inside the cerebellum. Surgery may be a treatment option to treat a problem like a tumor. Medications can also be useful for preventing further damage to the brain. People with these tremors sometimes benefit from physical therapy to help them develop as much motor control as possible.

Patients with severe intention tremors may benefit from assistive devices designed to help people who cannot use their hands easily. Electronics with enlarged buttons, tools to assist with dressing, and things like cutlery and pens designed with large, easy to grip handles can all be helpful. Some of these devices may be provided by organizations founded to help people with neurological disorders, and they are sometimes covered by insurance when people can demonstrate that they are necessary. People concerned about costs can talk with doctors or occupational therapists about options in their community for accessing financial assistance and donations of free equipment.


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