SEATTLE — Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes uncontrolled, rhythmic shaking, most commonly in the arms and hands, but also in the voice, head, and legs. "One particular feature about it is that it tends to get worse as somebody reaches for something or does something with their hands," says Dr. Ryder Gwinn, Neurosurgeon at Swedish.
Essential tremor comes on or gets worse with age and is thought to originate in the area of the brain called the Thalamus. Inside the Thalamus is a "control and command center" for movement that feeds information to our joints and muscles. When that information is processed incorrectly, the brain sets up an abnormal oscillation of the hand and arm as a result.
It comes on and can get worse with age and will either go away on its own, or has to be treated. "If you do have a lot of shaking and you think you have a central tremor, you need to get evaluated by a professional. By a neurologist that has been trained in movement disorders," says Dr. Gwinn, "That's that's the person that will hopefully make the right diagnosis and then start you on medication."
There are medications that have been proven to help with essential tremor, but they don't work for everyone. For patients that haven't been helped by medicine, there is now a FDA approved technique to treat essential tremor. It's called ExAblate Neuro, also called MR-guided focused ultrasound ablation, and it uses sound waves rather than surgery to target the brain tissue causing the tremors and destroy it.
Swedish was a leader in research on MR-guided focused ultrasound, and is the first center in the Pacific Northwest to offer focused ultrasound ablation to patients with essential tremor. They also offer two other advanced treatment options for patients with essential tremor: Deep brain stimulation and gamma knife.
Dr. Gwinn says the percentage of people who benefit from these treatments is high, "Whether it's deep brain stimulation or focused ultrasound, we generally can get rid of about 90 percent of the tremor in most patients."
Tremor is physiological to some degree, we all can get tremor when we are nervous, but if it's continuous everyday and is affecting your daily activities, it's time to see a specialist.