Health Watch: Focused Ultrasound Triumphs Over Tremors

Essential tremors impact ten million Americans, typically causing one or both hands to shake and interfering with simple tasks like writing or drinking from a cup. Treatments include medication or surgical deep brain stimulation but are not options for everyone. A newly FDA- approved therapy is helping patients make rapid improvements.

Seventy-four-year-old Bill Purcell's tremors started five years ago. It got so bad that he couldn't even enjoy his coffee without spills.

Purcell said, "My wife didn't want me to carry a cup of coffee from the coffee pot to the table anymore."

Medication wasn't working, and he wasn't a candidate for deep brain stimulation. So, Purcell became one of the first patients to undergo a new non-invasive treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.

Sean Nagel, MD, Staff Neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic said, "The focused ultrasound allows the physicians to target a very specific area of the brain. And as you slowly increase the energy over time, you can see the warming or the heating of the tissue within the brain itself."

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The MRI-guided ultrasound creates a lesion on the part of the brain that causes tremors, and patients can be tested for progress after each session. Purcell had immediate improvement after treatment.

Dr. Nagel said, "We were able to give him a cup of coffee, which for the first time in several years he was able to drink without spilling any."

Purcell has regained the ability to write and his hand no longer shakes. But more importantly, he has accomplished his goal:

"My goal was to get out of bed and drink coffee without spilling. I did that so my day was a success," Purcell shared.

Doctor Nagel says the therapy is also approved for tremors related to Parkinson's disease. Doctors are currently only using the ultrasound on one side of the brain at a time. Long-term results are not available yet, but the procedure is covered by insurance.

Contributors to this news report include: Hayley Hudson, Producer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Robert Walko, Editor.
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