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Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Treatment of Essential Tremor

Essential tremor (ET) is the most common type of movement disorder, affecting approximate­ly four out of 1000 people, and is significantly more common, though less recognized, than Parkinson’s disease. ET affects men and women equally and is inherited as an autosomal-dominant condition in about 60 percent of cases.

Although often referred to as benign essen­tial tremor, it is hardly benign in patients who may not be able to write legibly, hold a glass of water or use a knife and fork. ET is primarily an action tremor of the upper extremities but may involve resting tremor of the head and neck and/or lower jaw, and also tremor of the voice. The latter may be so severe that speech becomes unintelligible.

Medication and surgical treatment options

Primidone and beta blockers are useful in re­ducing tremor in the early stages of ET, but as the tremor progresses, medical management often becomes less effective or side effects can prevent the use of adequate doses of medication. ET pa­tients then are candidates for surgical or radiosur­gical treatment.

The mainstay of the surgical treatment of ET is deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which an electrode is implanted in the ventral inter­mediate nucleus (VIM) of the thalamus. Neurosurgeons Peter Nora, M.D., and Ryder Gwinn, M.D., have been implant­ing DBS electrodes at Swedish Medical Center for several years. The treatment is effective, but it requires implantation of permanent hardware (wires and batteries) into the brain and chest wall. Patients who take anticoagulants or have severe cardio­vascular disease are not suitable candidates for DBS. These patients, however, may be candidates for radiosurgical treatment.

A new option for difficult-to-treat patients

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