Do you ever notice that your hands shake when you’re trying to write your name or drink from a glass? Does your head or voice seem to wobble out of your control? Do these symptoms get worse when you’re stressed or anxious?
If any of this sounds familiar, you may have a condition called essential tremors. If you served in the military, you could be entitled to VA disability compensation for it. Read on to learn more about essential tremors and how they’re diagnosed.
In this article about essential tremors VA disability:
- What Are Essential Tremors?
- Symptoms of Essential Tremors
- Essential Tremor vs. Parkinson’s Disease
- Causes of Essential Tremors in Veterans
- Risk Factors of Tremors
- Neurological Examination
- Laboratory Tests for Tremors
- Performance Tests
- Treatment Options
- Coping with Essential Tremors
- Preparing for Your Appointment
- During Your C&P Appointment
- How to Qualify for VA Disability Benefits
- VA Rating Schedule
- Rating Schedule for Essential Tremor
- Get Compensation for Your Essential Tremors
What Are Essential Tremors?
Essential tremor is a disorder that affects your nervous system. It causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking and can affect almost any part of your body. However, tremors occur most frequently in your hands, especially when you’re doing tasks such as drinking from a glass or tying your shoes.
Although essential tremors can occur at any age, they are most common in people over 40. The condition is not usually dangerous, but it does tend to get worse over time. Essential tremor is its own condition that is sometimes misunderstood as Parkinson’s. As your symptoms progress, they can affect your ability to work or keep a sustainable job.
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Symptoms of Essential Tremors
Essential tremors tend to be small, rapid movements that can occur with varying levels of frequency. These tremors usually begin gradually and are often more noticeable on one side of your body. They may be worse with movement (called Action Tremors) or when you’re not doing anything (Tremors at Rest).
Although most people experience tremors first in their hands, the tremors can spread to other parts of the body. You may get tremors in your head and neck that cause your head to either nod or shake back and forth. You might also get twitches in your eyelids, tremors in your tongue or voice box that can cause your voice to sound shaky, or tremors in your core, legs, or feet.
Essential Tremor vs. Parkinson’s Disease
Oftentimes, essential tremor is confused with another condition called Parkinson’s Disease. They are both nervous system disorders, and they do both involve tremors. However, the two conditions differ in some key ways.
Although most people experience essential tremors when they’re doing something with their hands, Parkinson’s tremors tend to be most prominent when the patient’s hands are at rest. Essential tremor doesn’t have other associated health problems, but Parkinson’s patients tend to develop a stooped posture and a slow and shuffling gait. And while essential tremor primarily affects the hands, head, and voice, Parkinson’s tends to spread to the legs, chin, and other parts of the body.
Causes of Essential Tremors in Veterans
Doctors are still working to determine the exact cause of essential tremors. Tremors on their own can be caused by a number of factors – alcohol abuse, an overactive thyroid, or a stroke, to name a few. But no absolute environmental causes or cellular defects have been linked to the condition.
About half of essential tremor cases are caused by an inherited genetic mutation. This is called familial tremor, and you only have to have a defective gene from one of your parents to inherit the condition. People who have a parent with essential tremor have about a 50 percent chance of developing the condition themselves.
You can see why it would be hard to link tremors to your time in the service. Anything about shaking or jitters in your medical history can help. You can claim service connection for anything that was caused by your military service or diagnosed during your military service. That is sometimes the only angle you can take on your application.
Risk Factors of Tremors
Because we are still trying to determine the exact cause of essential tremor, we know relatively little about the factors that increase your risk of developing it. The biggest risk factor we know of for sure is having a parent with the condition.
Beyond the genetic component, the biggest risk factor we know of right now is age. People over age 40 are much more likely to develop essential tremors than younger people. Experts also believe there are some environmental risk factors, but so far have not been able to confirm any specific factor.
For most people, essential tremor is not a life-threatening or especially dangerous condition. The biggest complication is that the symptoms tend to get worse over time. If you get the disorder very young or if your symptoms progress rapidly, you could find it difficult to perform basic daily tasks.
If the tremors spread to your neck, you could find that they interfere with your vocal function. And if you develop essential tremors in your core, legs, or feet, it could become difficult for you to walk. This could leave you at greater risk for falls or, depending on the severity, could leave you dependent on a walker or a wheelchair.
These factors are what come into play when you need to convince the VA that your tremors affect your ability to work. If you can’t work your usual job because you can’t speak clearly or can’t hold tools steady, then make that clear in your VA disability claim. Get a co-worker to submit a lay statement explaining your inability to work.
Here one of our lawyers talks about lay statements for your VA disability appeal.
When you go talk to your doctor about essential tremors, one of the first things they will likely do is perform a neurological examination. This test allows them to test your nervous system function to see which parts of it, if any, are behaving abnormally. It is important to note that no one medical test exists for diagnosing essential tremors; rather, it is a matter of ruling out other potential causes of your symptoms.
During the neurological exam, your doctor will test your tendon reflexes, as well as your ability to feel certain sensations. They may check your muscle strength and tone. And they may want to take a look at your posture, coordination, and gait for any irregularities like a limp or a shuffle.
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Laboratory Tests for Tremors
Because your doctor will be using the process of elimination to diagnose your essential tremor, they may want to order some laboratory tests. These will help rule out any other conditions that could be contributing to your tremors. Your doctor may need samples of your blood or urine to perform these tests.
Your doctor may order lab tests looking for thyroid disease or metabolic problems. They may also want to check if any medications you’re taking have tremors as a possible side effect. And if your bloodwork shows certain levels of chemicals, that might explain why you’re having tremors.
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Finally, your doctor may also want to run some performance tests. These will examine your ability to perform different basic daily tasks. They will also serve to show how your tremor behaves while you’re doing these tasks as opposed to when you’re simply at rest.
Your doctor may ask you to drink from a glass or hold your arm outstretched for a period of time. They may ask you to write or draw a spiral to examine the way your tremor impacts your fine motor skills. And if your doctor is still unsure whether you have an essential tremor or Parkinson’s, they may order a dopamine transporter scan to look for some telltale signs of Parkinson’s disease.
If you get diagnosed with essential tremor, there are several treatment options available to you. Medications like beta-blockers and anti-seizure medications can help to alleviate tremors. Tranquilizers can help people whose tremors are worsened by anxiety, and Botox injections can help to manage head and neck tremors.
Your doctor may also recommend physical and occupational therapy to help you strengthen your muscles and adapt to living with your tremors. If your tremors are severe enough, surgeries like deep brain stimulation and focused ultrasound thalamotomy can help alleviate your symptoms. Avoiding triggers like alcohol, caffeine, and stress can also improve your tremors aside from other medical interventions.
Coping with Essential Tremors
Many people with essential tremor find that their social life suffers as a result of their condition. It can be challenging to engage in usual social activities like going out to a restaurant or chatting with friends at a coffee shop if you’re worried about spilling your food or drink or your voice shaking. If you’re dealing with this, be open and honest with your family and friends about your struggles.
You may also want to consider joining a support group if you find that essential tremor is impacting your social life. Not only will you find validation and support from other people who are going through the same challenges you are, but you’ll also find a social group where you don’t have to worry about the impact of your condition. You might also consider seeing a counselor who can help you work through these challenges.
Preparing for Your Appointment
If you think you may have essential tremor, the first thing to do is make an appointment with your primary care physician. They may refer you to a neurologist who specializes in brain and nervous system conditions. Before either appointment, you’ll need to gather some information to make sure your diagnostic process goes as smoothly as possible.
Make a list of all unusual symptoms you’re experiencing, even those that seem unrelated to your tremors. Also make notes about any recent life changes or major stresses, as well as your family medical history and any medications or supplements you currently take. It’s a good idea to make notes of any questions you have for your doctor, too.
The important things to note are the frequency of attacks and how they affect your everyday life. If they happen weekly or monthly is important for your case. Especially how much work you miss or other income-impacting problems.
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During Your C&P Appointment
In addition to running the tests we discussed earlier, your doctor is going to ask you some questions about your medical history and recent lifestyle changes. These will help them to rule out any other potential causes. Your answers may also help to provide a clue about the underlying cause of essential tremor.
Your doctor will likely ask you when your symptoms began and if you have a family history of tremors. They may ask you if you’ve ever had a head injury and what parts of your body are affected. And they might want to know if you’ve found that any specific triggers, including movement or resting, make your tremors better or worse.
How to Qualify for VA Disability Benefits
Once you’ve got a diagnosis of essential tremor, there are still a few steps you’ll need to take to qualify for VA disability benefits. The second thing you’ll need to do after you get your diagnosis is to prove an event in your service record that caused your condition. This may be a special challenge with essential tremor given that doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes the condition.
Talk to your doctor about your service record and ask if anything in your record could have caused your tremors. The final step you’ll need to take to qualify for VA disability is to show a medical nexus linking your condition with your service record.
VA Rating Schedule
If you get approved for VA disability compensation, your condition will be evaluated using the VA rating schedule. This system ranks disabilities based on severity and uses that rating to determine a monthly compensation amount. These ratings are scored on a percent scale and range from 10 percent to 100 percent.
If you receive a disability rating of 10 percent, for example, you will receive $152.64 a month. If you receive a 100 percent disability rating, your monthly compensation will depend on whether you have other dependents, including parents, children, or a spouse, relying on you. If you have multiple dependents, you could receive more than $3,332.06 per month tax-free.
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Rating Schedule for Essential Tremor
Because neurological disorders can be so complex, the VA tends to rate them based on symptoms. Officially speaking, essential tremor tends to get rated as “paralysis of the median nerve.” This gives it a diagnostic code of 8515, which can receive a disability rating of up to 70 percent.
If you experience “incomplete, severe paralysis” of your dominant arm, you will receive a rating of 50 percent and a rating of 40 percent for your non-dominant arm. Incomplete, moderate paralysis will get 30 percent and 20 percent. And incomplete, mild paralysis will receive a 10 percent disability rating for either arm.
Get Compensation for Your Essential Tremors
If you have essential tremors and a history of military service, you might be entitled to VA disability compensation. Give us a call and we’ll review your case for free. We help hundreds of veterans all over the country with their appeals, applications, and even widows with DIC claims. There is no charge to you until we win your case, at which time we take less than the legal limit allowed by veterans disability lawyers. Call us today or fill out the form below.