Essential or benign tremor may be painless, but it can be a highly frustrating experience that results in a drastic reduction of quality of life.
Unfortunately, medical experts have yet to discover its specific causes and thus develop a permanent cure for it. If you are diagnosed, there are treatment options to help sufferers.
One of the relatively new options for treating essential tremor involves the use of ultrasound. You may be familiar with ultrasound as a diagnostic tool. When ultrasound is used for therapeutic purposes, it is referred to as focused ultrasound.
This procedure makes use of around one thousand precisely targeted sound waves aimed at one point. The convergence of these sound waves is capable of heating and even destroying tissue.
This treatment, of course, is not meant to damage body parts. What it does is to direct the destructive effect of the focused ultrasound beam on a tiny part of an organ to induce changes that yield the potentially desirable outcomes.
In the case of essential tremor sufferers, the treatment entails the destruction of a very small part of the thalamus in the brain. Doing this minimizes the unintentional and unwanted shaking in the patient significantly.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner is required for the treatment. The patient will lie on a treatment table which will move in and out of the scanner during treatment.
The scanning process is necessary to look deep into the brain to identify the area to be targeted. Once the doctors determine the target, they deliver the ultrasound energy to that target which raises the temperature to ablate, or destroy, the tissue.
The patient is awake while this process is undertaken. The treatment team will ask the patient to draw spirals to see the effect of the treatment on the hand tremor during the treatment.
Effectiveness and safety
This treatment has been featured in professional journals as well as popular media. One report published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that the treatment results in a 47% improvement in the average hand tremor score of treated patients. It does not result in the complete elimination of the shaking, but it provides a good improvement.
Focused ultrasound treatment presents a highly viable alternative to deep brain stimulation, a procedure which requires incisions and cutting. The clinical trial of focused ultrasound involved 76 patients and was found to be effective in reducing tremors. The Food and Drug Administration has given its approval for this essential tremor treatment solution.
Hospitals that adopt the technology will require extensive training on the focused ultrasound device. It is generally safe when conducted by well-trained professionals.
Ultrasound has been a staple in the healthcare field, but its application to essential tremor treatment is fairly recent. The procedure debuted back in 2016 when the FDA approved its use in the USA and is now helping many essential tremor sufferers to reduce their hand tremor.