CLEVELAND, Ohio – Essential tremors impacts 10 million Americans, typically causing one or both hands to shake and interfering with simple tasks like writing or drinking from a cup.
74-year old Bill Purcell's tremors started five years ago. It got so bad that he couldn't even enjoy his coffee without spills.
"My wife didn't want me to carry a cup of coffee from the coffee pot to the table anymore."
Medication wasn't working and he wasn't a candidate for deep brain stimulation.
So Bill became one of the first patients to undergo a new non-invasive treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.
"The focused ultrasound allows the physicians to target a very specific area of the brain," explained Dr. Sean Nagel, a neurosurgeon with Cleveland Clinic.
"As you slowly increase the energy over time, you can see the warming or the heating of the tissue within the brain itself."
The MRI-guided ultrasound creates a lesion on the part of the brain that causes tremors and patients can be tested for progress after each session.
Bill had immediate improvement after treatment.
"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 recalled.
FOCUSED ULTRASOUND: According to Dr. Nagel, the ultrasound is coupled to the MRI and then a small frame is applied to the head and then by heating up areas within the brain, you can measure that heating with the MRI itself to help verify the location of the treatment. Dr. Nagel added that he expects this to be an important device in the treatment of patients with tremor and Parkinson's tremor, but said there is a chance that in some patients the tremor could recur and they don't know if patients would be eligible to repeat the treatment.
Bill has regained the ability to write and his hand no longer shakes.
But more importantly, he has accomplished his goal:
"My goal was to get out of bed and drink coffee without spilling. I did that so my day was a success."
Dr. Nagel says the therapy is also approved for tremors related to Parkinson's disease. Right now, doctors are only using the ultrasound on one side of the brain at a time.
Long-term results are not available yet, but it is covered by insurance.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at email@example.com.