“Shaky hands” steadier after non-invasive treatment
Millions of people suffer from what’s called “essential tremor,” a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking. It’s typically not a dangerous condition, but essential tremor can become worse over time, becoming severe in some people. Wall Street businesswoman Alexandra Lebenthal suffers from the condition, but there’s now a non-invasive brain procedure that stops the shaking, WCBS’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.
Lebenthal said the tremor affected every aspect of her life, including her work.
“Taking a glass of wine or sparkling water from a tray at a party, being able to take a picture with my iPhone, so many basic, basic things,” she said.
When medications didn’t help, Lebenthal became one of the first patients to receive a new FDA-approved treatment for essential tremor called “Exablate Neuro.” Developed by researchers in Israel, the outpatient, MRI-guided procedure uses focused ultrasound waves to target and ablate tissue deep in the brain.
“It allows us to send ultrasound waves to specific spots in the brain and actually change the way the brain functions,” said Dr. Michael G. Kaplitt, Weill Cornell Medical College.
Patients have reported a nearly 50 percent improvement in their tremors.
The FDA only allows the procedure to be done on one side of the brain. Lebenthal chose her right side because she’s left-handed.
“This is the new and improved and perfect hand,” she said, noting that even one steady hand has changed her life.
“This is now, after the procedure, so just unbelievable,” she said.
Essential tremor doesn’t lead to other diseases — although sometimes it’s mistaken for Parkinson’s, but it can be very troubling, especially if the shaking also affects the head or voice. There are some medications that can help, but they have side effects, so the new ultrasound treatment is a welcome option for patients like Lebenthal. The treatment is done with the patient fully awake and test results can be seen right away.
Perhaps the shaking began recently. Or maybe it’s growing worse. It probably started gradually. It may have happened when you were stressed or angry. Or illness could have brought it on. Whatever the cause, “tremor” is the name experts give to those shaky hands (and sometimes feet, too). They’re more common than you might think, and the causes and outcomes can be quite varied.
Of all the reasons to get the shakes, this is the most common. Your doctor may call it essential tremor (ET). It’s the most widespread disease of the nervous system. It usually starts in your hands, but it can move to your arms, head, voice, or other body parts. ET is different because it affects your hands when they’re already moving. Most other forms of tremor take place when you’re still.
It could result from a change in your genes (your doctor may call this a mutation). That means if one of your parents has a tremor, you’re more likely to get one, too. Toxins in the environment cause some cases. But more research is needed to better understand the connections. Age is another risk factor. Although ET can happen at any age, it’s more likely in people over 40. Your odds go up as you get older.
ET isn’t life-threatening, but it can get more severe over time. Stress, fatigue, and too much caffeine can worsen it. At some point, eating, drinking, writing, and all the other daily tasks you do with your hands can become a bigger challenge. This condition can be hard to treat. There are medications, but none works consistently. Surgery is an option, as is a treatment called deep brain stimulation, in which doctors implant a device in your brain to help control the tremors. If shaky hands are a problem for you, ask your doctor if this might help.
Tremor is an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, which affects 10 million people worldwide. Not everyone who has this disease gets shaky, but most people in the early stages will have slight movement in a hand, foot, or even a single finger. Most of the time, the tremor affects only one side of your body. Most often, it happens when you relax your muscles. That’s why it’s called a resting tremor. When you move, the shaking stops. Even a little flex of your fingers can help. As with other types of tremors, stress or excitement can make it worse. As you live with the disease, the tremor may spread from one side of your body to the other.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
This disease, which targets your immune system, brain, nerves, and spinal cord, can also make your hands shake. You’re most likely to have a tremor in your hand or foot. MS can cause a variety of tremors. The most common, like essential tremor, happens when you’re already moving.
Tremor is one of the first signs. If you weren’t too hooked, the shakes may last just a few days. If you drank a lot, or for a long time, they can go on for a year or even longer.
Drugs: The most common culprits are medications that block a brain chemical called dopamine. It moves information from one part of your brain to another. These drugs are used to keep your mood even. The tremors will go away when you stop taking the medication.
B12 deficiency: Without it, your nervous system won’t work like it should. You can find it in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk products. If you’re getting so little that your hands shake, your doctor will give you a shot.
Stress: From financial and job worries to relationship problems and health concerns, stress worsens tremors. Intense anger, extreme hunger, or sleep deprivation can all make your hands shake. This is known as physiologic tremor.
Low blood sugar: Your doctor will call this hypoglycemia. It triggers your body’s natural stress response and makes you shaky.
An overactive thyroid: This gland is in your neck, just above your collarbone. When it’s in overdrive, your whole body speeds up. You may have trouble sleeping, your heart may beat faster, and your hands might shake.
Nerve damage: Injury, disease, or a problem with your central nervous system can also cause tremors. Your doctor will call this peripheral neuropathy. It can affect your hands and feet. Because the causes and treatments vary widely for different types of tremors, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your history and symptoms.