Focused ultrasound, a possible treatment for essential tremor

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Imagine your hands shaking so badly that you can’t hold a spoon steady to eat and you’re unable to read your own handwriting.

This is reality for ten million people in the united states who suffer from a debilitating disease that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Now, there is an FDA approved, one-time treatment that can stop the shaking within seconds.

Janice Pedersen definitely doesn’t have a memory problem, she can name all 11 of her kids and 52 of her grandkids.

“We’ve got about every name you can think of in our family,” said Pedersen.

But Janice’s life changed drastically when her kids were young, her hands started shaking in her forties.

“It got so bad that I couldn’t eat with utensils,” said Pedersen. “The food would just fly off the fork.”

A team at the University of Utah is using focused ultrasound, a non-invasive approach to help patients like Janice. More than a thousand ultrasound beams are focused on the part of his brain that’s causing the tremor.

“The area we’re targeting is a small part of the brain, the size of a pea. We do these procedures with the patient awake so we can get real-time feedback with how we’re doing.”

It was life-changing for Mark … as for Janice, but this isn’t a cure.

“We just like to think that we’re able to set the clock back several decades and kind of reset the clock for these patients.”

The FDA has approved treating the part of the brain that impacts each hand, one at a time … this is the hand that was treated for Janice, this hand was not. Janice is hoping to get her left hand treated soon, but for now, she is back to doing all the things she couldn’t do before.

“They told me, they said, you might see 50 percent improvement. But to me it feels like a hundred percent,” said Pedersen.

Before focused ultrasounds, patients were dependent on medications and RF ablation that could damage other areas of the brain since it requires making an incision and drilling a hole into the skull. As for focused ultrasound, there’s very little risk, but patients may feel some tingling or experience instability for weeks afterward. Also, not everyone with essential tremor is eligible for focused ultrasound. You may not be a good candidate if you have a pacemaker, kidney disease or can’t have an MRI.

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