News Channel 8 reporter one of millions battling tremor disorder - WNCT

News Channel 8 reporter one of millions battling tremor disorder

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The tremor didn't start as much. It was just a little shaking in the voice.

But then, shaky hands made it hard to control some things and quality of life started being impacted.

It is the slow progression of a condition called Essential Tremor, something both Theresa Hancock, now 56 of Tampa, and News Channel 8 reporter Josh Green, 32, deal with.

Theresa's is much more progressed. The teacher's aide and grandmother dealt with it silently at first when her voice started shaking 15 years ago. Then her fingers started twisting and shaking. Eventually it got so bad she knew she needed to see a doctor.

"As time went on it got worse and simple tasks just like drying your hair got to be a real issue," Theresa said. "I couldn't cook. The pan would go all over the stove and that's when I decided that I needed to do something else."

Neurologists classify Josh's hand tremors as "mild." It was the shaking in his voice that led him to the doctor in the first place.

"Being on TV every day, something small can be magnified and it starts to impact the way you do your job," he said. "I had no clue what it was, but now that I know it's a common movement disorder I can work around it. I know I have to be in place in a live shot a few minutes earlier so I can settle down, focus, and have as little shakiness as possible."

Dr. Theresa Zesiewicz, Professor of Neurology at the University of South Florida, is a well-known expert when it comes to the disorder.

"Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder in the World and it's about three times as common as Parkinson's," she said. "We see young people with Essential Tremor and unfortunately Essential Tremor is a neurological condition. It's not just a tremor and that's the end of it. It progresses to become worse."

She has people as young as 16 come into her practice and she believes that the condition is likely about 80 percent genetic. But some of those most impacted are professionals who rely on steady hands for their craft.

"I have so many dentists in my practice come in with Essential Tremor because when they come in to do the small work - they notice that the tremor comes out," Dr. Theresa Zesiewicz said. "Surgeons, people who work on the eyes ...It's really tough because if a person goes into a career without knowing they have essential tremor and they develop it, many times they figure out they can't perform their job."

Dr. Zesiewicz's says there are some medications to treat essential tremor but they come with side effects. Beta blockers like Propranolol can be effective but may not be appropriate for people who have asthma, for instance. ET patients might also try Primidone, an anti-epileptic or seizure medication, but there are potential side effects as well like drowsiness.

"Alcohol can help it but only when alcohol is in your system. Once the alcohol wears off the tremor gets worse," Dr. Zesiewicz said. "That's really not a good treatment."

Tremors in the hands, head, and voice are commonly affected, she says. Shaking in the legs are less common as are other areas like the tongue.

"We don't have the exact reason for Essential Tremor," Dr. Zesiewicz said. "We think it probably comes from the back of the brain - by the cerebellum - because Essential Tremor patients can have problems walking a straight line."

Because of the effects of the condition, a lot of people mistake the tremors for Parkinson's.

"People come in and they think they have Parkinson's Disease. When you tell them they have Essential Tremor, they're typically relieved. But we do have to tell them Essential Tremor can impact them and can impact them greatly," she said. "It's not quite as severe as Parkinson's Disease because it doesn't cause the slowness and the stiffness and the great imbalance that Parkinson's Disease patients have but there is no question it in fact impacts quality of life."

A fairly new procedure called DaTscan is out, which doctors can use that to distinguish a difference between Parkinson's and Essential Tremor in their brain. Otherwise, neurologists usually perform simple in-office hand tests. Parkinson's, for instance, is a rest tremor when the hands are sitting still. Essential Tremor happens when you put your hands out and are performing a task, Dr. Zesiewicz says.

Some people who have progressed to a point that medicine won't control the tremors have well can opt for surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation. That's what Theresa Hancock chose to do in November of last year.

"I had so much fear of the surgery...and you have to be awake...that's enough right there to scare somebody to death," she said.

But when doctors told her the brain doesn't have any pain receptors, she felt a little more at ease. She said she went through the procedure with no pain.

A Tampa Bay Area neurosurgeon, Dr. Donald Smith, performed the first Deep Brain Stimulation Procedure for ET at the University of South Florida 20 years ago.

"You take a wire the size of a hair then you put it in the part of the brain that will basically practically stop that tremor," Dr. Zesiewicz explains.

For Hancock, when the device is on, the tremors are virtually gone.

"Everything's changed; my whole life has changed," she said.

The International Essential Tremor Foundation says ET is a neurological condition that affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. To learn more about the condition and find local resources to cope, click here.

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