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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Brain Stimulation May Reduce Tremors

Deep Brain Stimulation Offers Lasting Relief From Essential Tremor

WebMD Health News

Oct. 30, 2003 -- People who suffer from involuntary trembling caused by a condition called essential tremor may find lasting relief from deep brain stimulation.

A new study confirms that the procedure safely and effectively reduces tremors in people who suffer from potentially disabling tremors not caused by other conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, for more than six years.

Researchers say it's only the second study to look at the long-term effectiveness of deep brain stimulation in treating essential tremor and suggests that the procedure can be safely recommended for people with the condition that don't respond well to drug therapy.

The procedure involves surgically implanting a device in one or two areas of the brain that stimulates the brain with electronic pulses. Deep brain stimulation has also been studied in treating Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis conditions also known to affect movement, but initial results from a major European study showed the results were slightly better in people with essential tremor.

Deep Brain Stimulation Provides Long-Term Relief

In this study, European researchers followed 19 people with disabling essential tremor who did not respond to drug therapy and had a brain stimulator implanted. The patients were evaluated (both with their device turned on and off) one year after the procedure and again six years later.

Researchers found that the good results achieved with deep brain stimulation after one year persisted for more than six years. The reduction in tremor frequency and severity and improvement in daily living activities was significant compared with before they had the implant and when the device was turned off.

Few complications were reported and most were easily resolved.

The results of the study appear in the October issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Essential tremor usually develops during middle age, and symptoms can remain mild or can increase in severity. Severe tremors can cause difficulties in performing activities of daily living, particularly activities that require fine motor skills, like writing. The symptoms do not occur while the muscle is not active.

Researchers found that a slight increase in brain stimulator output was necessary to control tremors during the course of follow-up, and they attribute this increase to the progression of the disease. But they also acknowledge that it also reflects some tolerance of the therapy.

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