Steady Hands for Golf

A sixty- one year old patient comes in worried about the tremor in his hands. Told by his previous neurologist there are eighteen drugs that treat tremor, he was about to start the first trial when he opted instead to go on a long driving journey across the country. Not wanting to have to contend with the possible side effect of undue sedation, he put off treatment. The patient has no history of working with chemical toxicants. Past EMG and nerve conduction studies show he has no neuropathies, which might in some cases result in tremor. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, where tremor first presents on one side of the body, the patient’s tremor involves the hands and arms symmetrically.
The movement disorder doctor comments his symptoms bring to mind the diagnosis of essential tremor. The physician inquires whether alcohol decreases the movements, the patient notes that when dining out he, and his wife sometimes order a bottle of wine. With his first glass, he will see apparent tremor in his hands, by the time the bottle is half-empty, the tremor will have eased substantially.
On physical examination, the patient’s muscles surrounding his joints are loose and supple. The doctor notes he has a fine tremor of the head, and asks whether the patient has ever noticed it. It is very mild, the specialist assures him. Performing fine movements of the finger, in touching a pen and then his nose, the patient’s movements are obviously shaky. In writing, his hand is noticeably unsteady. He comments his characters tend to be hairy- looking, and at other times they are normal. Sometimes he says he forgets how to spell simple words, he concentrates so hard on trying to make the letters round.
The specialist peruses the file folder with details of previous tests the patient has undergone. The physician mentions the patient has some compression of nerve roots in his neck, but that is more likely, in the case of severe nerve root compression, to produce pain, weakness and muscle twitiching or fasiculations. He states the patient’s symptoms are classical examples of essential tremor, with the minor deviation that people usually notice the tremors much earlier in life. The patient is sixty- one and first noticed the tremor in his hands just over a year ago. Inderal (propranolol), a beta blocker is the medication most commonly given for essential tremor. It has an advantage over the current medication the patient uses to decrease blood pressure, as it will function for two issues- lowering blood pressure and decreasing tremor. The doctor creates a schedule for using Inderal, and mentions that essential tremor tends to increase and decrease, though with time it worsens and may come to involve the head and voice. He mentions people with debilitating tremor may choose to undergo deep brain stimulation surgery. The patient refers to his previous neurologist, who mentioned surgery for when tremor worsened to the extent he was starting to throw food around with his fork. The movement disorder physician laughs, conceding that’s a creative way of putting things and he would like him to return in six months time, so they can re-assess the situation.


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