What Is Essential Tremor, And How Can It People Who Suffer From It Benefit From Deep Brain Stimulation?

Posted on: 12 March 2018

Few things in life are more disturbing and scary that losing control over your own movements, and uncontrollable tremors in your hands, feet or other parts of your body can be particularly frightening to experience. Unfortunately, decades of TV hospital dramas and sensationalist newspaper articles lead many people who suffer from tremors to assume they are suffering from Parkinson's disease, a debilitating and incurable condition, but in many cases uncontrollable tremors can be caused by a more benign condition known as essential tremor.

What is essential tremor, and what causes it?

Essential tremor is defined as an uncontrollable, intermittent tremor in one or more parts of your body. The hands, fingers and arms are most commonly affected, but other parts of the body such as the neck and larynx can also fall victim to these sudden, jerky movements. The underlying cause of essential tremor is currently unknown, but it appears to be a genetically inherited condition.

While this may sound very similar to Parkinson's disease, essential tremor is not caused by progressive deterioration of the brain, and rarely afflicts parts of the body that are not currently in use -- many people find that their tremors are only triggered when the affected body part is in motion, or the muscles within it are tensed for extended periods. As such, essential tremor is a far less dangerous condition to deal with, and many people who suffer from it get through life without undergoing treatment for their tremors.

Unfortunately, more severe cases of essential tremor can be debilitating, and treating a condition without a known underlying cause can understandably be challenging. However, many patients suffering from persistent essential tremor are turning to deep brain stimulation (DBS), a unique therapy that can provide amazing results.

What is deep brain stimulation, and how can it help treat essential tremor?

Deep brain stimulation involves the insertion of one or more tiny electrodes into the brain of a patient; for cases of essential tremor, these electrodes are generally placed within the thalamus, a portion of the brain that regulates the motor signals that control bodily movement. Once inserted, these electrodes give off intermittent electrical signals that override the errant electrical signals believed to cause essential tremor, allowing someone who suffers from the condition to regain more control over the affect body part(s) in almost all cases.

Having electrodes implanted deep within your brain matter may sound somewhat barbaric at first, but modern neurosurgical techniques allow them to be placed using minimally invasive techniques and relatively small incisions in the scalp and skull. Consequently, a patient who undergoes DBS can usually go back to their normal life within a matter of days and weeks.

As you can imagine, however, this is not a treatment to be undertaken lightly, and the possibility of adverse effects does exist. If you suffer from essential tremor and are considering the benefits of DBS, you should therefore speak to a respected neurosurgeon specialising in the procedure, as they will be able to talk you through the procedure, assess any risks that may exist, and insert the electrodes with professional skill that gives you the very best chance of regaining control of your body and your life.