Are chronic hand tremors normal or signs of a nervous breakdown? If you ever wonder why your hands shake involuntarily, you’re not alone.
Every day, as many as 10 million Americans suffer from something called essential tremor, or chronic hand tremors, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That number might vary widely because people with mild cases learn to live with it.
For people like Alan Dambach, though, living with essential tremor was nearly impossible.
Dambach is a farmer who had put up with his trembling hands for about a decade. But, when the condition started impeding his everyday life, he knew he needed to do something about it, reports NPR.
He was having trouble eating and writing his own signature, which is the breaking point for a farmer with many good working years still ahead. Like many other patients, Dambach lived with his condition until it became debilitating.
The Device That Made a Difference
Before this new device, patients had to take beta blockers or anticonvulsant drugs to control the tremors. If those didn’t work, the only other option was surgery.
Then, in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a breakthrough treatment for patients that did not respond to normal treatment methods. Patients could now choose to implant a brain stimulation device, says an FDA press release. The device aims to reduce tremors by damaging the thalamus, which is the part of the brain that controls involuntary movement.
While still invasive, the FDA’s new treatment comes as a much more palatable alternative. It uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to target an ultrasound into the brain. Essentially, the treatment kills the specific brain cells that are causing the chronic hand tremors. This is a procedure that sounds more dangerous than it is.
During trials, patients showcased huge improvements after the procedure and tremors decreased as much as 50 percent.
For Alan Dambach, the new ultrasound technology turned his life around. After this treatment, Dambach’s chronic hand tremors are nearly resolved, states NPR. Now, he can even write his signature and perform everyday activities, including working on his farm.
Chronic Hand Tremors Vs. Parkinson’s Disease
Many people confuse this chronic condition with the degenerative Parkinson’s disease when diagnosing essential tremor. The two conditions do have some similarities.
For instance, chronic hand tremors are common in Parkinson’s as the disease often starts with a noticeable shake in one hand. But, the disease is also characterized by impaired movement and lack of muscle coordination overall.
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, patients may have trouble balancing, walking, and even controlling facial expression. Early signs include arms that don’t swing when walking, an expressionless face, and feet dragging.
Essential tremor, on the other hand, is not as dangerous or life-threatening. Although the beginning stages can look similar to Parkinson’s, the tremors mainly affect the hands, head, and voice according to the Mayo Clinic.
One main difference between the conditions is that Parkinson’s can affect the legs, face and various other parts of the body too.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, essential tremor usually occurs as a symptom by itself. Chronic hand tremors are most noticeable during walking, eating and drinking, and writing. However, they also appear when hands are held steady and parallel to the ground.
Head tremors may involve a bobbing “yes-yes” or “no-no” motion, but the condition is considered harmless. Treating severe symptoms is the main concern with this condition.
New Treatment Does Involve Some Risks
That said, the new ultrasound treatment doesn’t work for everyone. Side effects of the procedure include numbness, headaches, and problems with balance.
In addition, the FDA press release mentions that patients with bleeding disorders, unstable heart conditions, advanced kidney disease, or drug abuse may not be eligible.
For the rest of the patients, however, this new treatment could change their lives for the better.