Shutting Down Tremors

July 24, 2009 6:41:54 PM PDT
Writing, eating, even drinking on their own become nearly impossible for the more than 10 million Americans struggling with essential tremor. It's a neurological condition that causes people to shake uncontrollably and can make life miserable. In a new procedure, patients stay awake during surgery to help doctors implant a device in their brain -- and shut down the shaking. In essential tremor, the mind functions fine but the hands, head and neck shake uncontrollably. The condition is 10-times more common than Parkinson's.

During a new procedure performed to treat essential tremor, while the patient is awake, doctors drill a hole in the skull. During the surgery -- called deep brain stimulation -- they place tiny wire electrodes in the brain and attach them to a battery-powered device in the chest. When turned on, it emits an electrical pulse. When it's in the perfect spot, the shaking stops.

"Upwards of 95 percent of patients who have this will be able to return to being able to do what they wanted to do," Ryan Uitti, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., told Ivanhoe.

Mike Bate's hands once shook so much he didn't want to get out of bed.

"I couldn't feed myself," Bates said. "I couldn't button buttons."

He tried two different medications. He stopped shaking, but he also slept all day.

"They knocked me out," Bates said.

He opted for surgery. A year later, he still has a slight tremble, but the device makes a big difference. The handyman now puts his hands to work.

"It's like day and night," Bates said. "It's like being reborn."

Making even the slower moments of retirement much more enjoyable.

The deep brain stimulation surgery can cause tingling in the face and limbs, and in Bates' case, it slowed his speech. Medication is an alternative, and doctors say it's effective in 60 percent of cases. The drugs used to treat essential tremor carry side effects of drowsiness and depression.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Cindy Nelson, Public Affairs
The Mayo Clinic
Jacksonville, FL
nelson.cynthia1@mayo.edu
(904) 953-0464

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