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YOUR HEALTH: Stopping the tremors

Doctors were able to stop the tremors without medication and without surgery

SALT LAKE CITY — 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 essential tremors.

Now, there is an FDA approved, one-time treatment that can stop the shaking within seconds. 

Janice Pedersen'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. 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. 

Doctors use more than a thousand ultrasound beams that are focused on the part of the brain that's causing the tremor.

"The area we're targeting is a small part of the brain, the size of a pea," explained University of Utah Health neurosurgeon Dr. John Rolston.

"We do these procedures with the patient awake so we can get real time feedback with how we're doing."

Ultrasound energy is also non-ionizing, meaning that you are not exposed to potentially dangerous radiation during the procedure. 

It 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," said Dr. Mark Alexander, a University of Utah Health Neurointerventional Radiologist 

The FDA has approved treating the part of the brain that impacts each hand, one at a time.

It's made a difference in Janice's right hand.  She hopes 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% improvement. But to me it feels like a 100%."

Before focused ultrasounds, patients were dependent on medications and R-F 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 afterwards. 

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.

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 jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.