Is DBS for me? - Essential Tremor

 

Close to 10 million of US adults suffer from essential tremor—a hereditary condition that causes uncontrollable movements in any part of the body. Approved by the FDA for essential tremor in 1997, deep brain stimulation (DBS) has helped more than 100,000 people better control their tremors. Typically recommended for those who have failed medications or for those in which tremors cause extreme quality of life interference, DBS has been shown to effectively suppress essential tremor for more than six years after implantation.

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About Essential Tremor

Essential tremor is characterized by uncontrollable shaking movements, which can occur anywhere throughout the body. It is the most common type of tremor and is most often found in the hands, head, and eyelids. Essential tremor is more frequently found in the elderly but can affect people at any age. Tremors may become stronger with stress, caffeine, and certain medications. 

Symptoms of Essential Tremor

Essential tremor rarely occurs in the legs or feet, and is most likely to be noticed in the hands. People with essential tremor may have difficulties holding or using small objects such as silverware. This condition most often involves small, rapid movements—five or more per second. Tremors may occur when you move and may be more difficult to notice when resting. In many cases, tremors will not affect both sides of the body in the same way.


Specific signs of essential tremor may include:

  • Head nodding
  • Shaking or quivering sound to the voice
  • Difficulty writing, drawing, drinking from a cup, or using tools

Diagnosing Essential Tremor

Your physician can diagnose essential tremor by completing a medical history and physical exam. Your physician may order further tests to rule out other causes of tremors (medication side effects, caffeine, alcohol withdrawal, etc).

Treating Essential Tremor

Treatment may not be needed if the tremors do not interfere with daily activities or cause embarrassment. Your doctor may suggest some techniques to help including:

  • Relaxation techniques for tremors triggered by stress
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Changing or stopping medication – should only be done after consulting with your doctor
  • Buying products that make everyday tasks easier
    • Clothes with Velcro fasteners
    • Button hooks
    • Kitchen utensils with larger handles
    • Drinking straws
    • Slip-on shoes

There are several treatment options for patients who are experiencing heavy symptoms of essential tremor. Treatment frequently begins with medication therapy using beta-blockers, anti-seizure medications, tranquilizers, or Botox injections. A physical therapy regimen may also help improve coordination, muscle control, and function.

When essential tremor impacts daily quality of life or severe tremors have not improved with other treatments, DBS may be considered.