From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.
Many people with MS experience some degree of tremor, or uncontrollable shaking. It can occur in various parts of the body.
There are several types of tremor:
Tremor occurs because there are plaques—damaged areas—along the complex nerve pathways that are responsible for coordination of movements. People with MS who have tremors may also have associated symptoms such as difficulty in speaking (dysarthria) or difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)—activities that are governed by many of the same pathways involved in coordinating movement.
Tremor is One of the Most Difficult MS Symptoms to Treat
Weights and other devices can also be attached to a limb to inhibit or compensate for tremors. An occupational therapist is the health professional who can best advise about assistive devices to aid in the management of tremor.
More recently, deep brain stimulation (using electrodes implanted surgically into various brain areas) has been shown to be effective for the management of tremor in Parkinson's disease. This has also been tried in MS patients (with varying degrees of success) although, at the moment, this therapeutic approach should be regarded as experimental.
Tremor can have significant emotional and social impact, especially when people choose to keep to themselves rather than be embarrassed by tremor. Isolation can lead to depression and further psychological problems. A psychologist, social worker, or counselor may be able to help a person with MS deal with these issues and become more comfortable in public.
Controversy continues over the role of alcohol or tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, in treating tremor. Only small studies have been done, characterized by conflicting results. Marijuana remains a controlled substance under current policies of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Schapiro R. Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (5th ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Last updated December 2005