Essential tremor is one of the most common movement disorders in the world. Shaking, trembling hands are often a telltale sign of the condition.
Medicine and surgery often help, but some people have trouble finding relief.
That was the case for Bill Purcell, 75, of Ohio who suffered from tremors in his left hand.
Being left handed, the condition was severely disabling.
“At first the medications seemed to be working but then it just got worse and worse where I couldn’t really write anymore, couldn’t drink a cup, have to use two hands,” Purcell said.
Purcell was not a candidate for deep brain stimulation surgery because of his history of mini-strokes, but he did qualify for a new incision-free focused ultrasound treatment.
“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 using the MRI,” said Sean Nagel, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic.
Purcell was awake during the procedure and gave doctors feedback while they heated specific areas of his brain.
“We can start to see that their tremors responded before actually increasing energy enough to cause the permanent lesion,” said Dr. Nagel.
The lesion interrupts nerve signals causing the tremor and it stops immediately.
“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,” Dr. Nagel said.
Savoring a cup of coffee is one thing, but the procedure also allowed Purcell to hold something much more precious – his newborn granddaughter.
“When they came home, I didn’t want to hold the baby because I was afraid,” Purcell said. “Once I had the procedure, I said, okay I think I can hold the baby now. So I got hold the baby and that was a thrill.”
Dr. Nagel said MRI-guided focused ultra sound is also being used to treat people with Parkinson’s disease.
He adds that it’s currently only FDA approved to treat one side of the brain, so deep brain stimulation is still the best choice for people with tremors on both sides of the body.