"Shaky hands" steadier after non-invasive treatment

Imagine having your hands shake so much that it’s hard to hold a glass of water, feed yourself, shave or put on makeup.

Millions of people suffer from what’s called “essential tremor,” a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking. It’s typically not a dangerous condition, but essential tremor can become worse over time, becoming severe in some people. 

Wall Street businesswoman Alexandra Lebenthal suffers from the condition, but there’s now a non-invasive brain procedure that stops the shaking, WCBS’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

Lebenthal said the tremor affected every aspect of her life, including her work.

“Taking a glass of wine or sparkling water from a tray at a party, being able to take a picture with my iPhone, so many basic, basic things,” she said.

When medications didn’t help, Lebenthal became one of the first patients to receive a new FDA-approved treatment for essential tremor called “Exablate Neuro.” Developed by researchers in Israel, the outpatient, MRI-guided procedure uses focused ultrasound waves to target and ablate tissue deep in the brain.

“It allows us to send ultrasound waves to specific spots in the brain and actually change the way the brain functions,” said Dr. Michael G. Kaplitt, Weill Cornell Medical College.

Patients have reported a nearly 50 percent improvement in their tremors. 

The FDA only allows the procedure to be done on one side of the brain. Lebenthal chose her right side because she’s left-handed.

“This is the new and improved and perfect hand,” she said, noting that even one steady hand has changed her life.

“This is now, after the procedure, so just unbelievable,” she said.

Essential tremor doesn’t lead to other diseases -- although sometimes it’s mistaken for Parkinson’s, but it can be very troubling, especially if the shaking also affects the head or voice.

There are some medications that can help, but they have side effects, so the new ultrasound treatment is a welcome option for patients like Lebenthal.

The treatment is done with the patient fully awake and test results can be seen right away.