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Hope for Essential Tremor: Choose Your Treatment

Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder in the world—10 times more common than Parkinson's disease. This progressive condition involves tremor of the hands and in some cases can eventually affect the head, voice, trunk and/or legs.

Even the early stages of essential tremor can be devastating and make life far more difficult. Sufferers may have trouble writing, eating, drinking, and preforming their jobs. Luckily, for difficult to treat cases there is hope in the form of advanced therapies.

Understanding Essential Tremor

Essential tremor is known as "essential" because it’s a condition that’s intrinsic to the body—something not caused by other diseases. In some cases, essential tremor has a strong genetic component. This trait is inherited and passed on to children. However, a genetic link does not mean that the root cause of the condition is known.

Initial Treatment Options

There are several options for treating essential tremor. Patients should work with their doctor to develop a plan that fits their specific needs.

Initial treatment options include:

  • Proper diagnosis of essential tremor.
  • Medication that can help manage symptoms (often propranolol or primidone amongst others).

Advanced Therapies

Despite medical therapy, approximately 50% of patients either do not respond to medications or experience unwanted side effects and require advanced therapies. Advanced therapies include both surgical and incision-less approaches:

  1. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical option for patients suffering from drug-resistant essential tremor. This surgery involves precise placement of electrodes in an area of the brain that is thought to be responsible for tremors. 

“Think of a pacemaker for the brain,” says Shervin Rahimpour, MD, a neurosurgeon at University of Utah Health and an assistant professor in the neurosurgery department, who specializes in the surgical treatment of movement disorders. “Stimulation can then be ‘tuned’ to treat the tremor while minimizing side effects. Despite the safety and success of DBS, open surgery may not be a preferred or great option for some patients.”

  1. Focused ultrasound (FUS) is a relatively new option for essential tremor patients. This approach uses sound energy that is focused to the tremor “sweet spot” in the brain to disrupt tremor symptoms. This results in a pea-sized ablation within the thalamus to treat hand tremor. 

FUS is a two- to three-hour procedure that is done in the outpatient setting. Patients aged 22 years and older can get the procedure, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Surround Yourself with Support

Essential tremor is a life-altering condition that can make daily activities challenging. Support groups are available for those suffering with essential tremor and for their loved ones that are supporting them. Find a support group near you.