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App can Determine Severity of Tremors Caused by Alcohol-Withdrawal

Update Date: Aug 29, 2014 12:06 PM EDT

Tremors can be caused by health conditions or by drug and/or alcohol withdrawal. In some cases, it is difficult for doctors to determine the severity of the tremors. In a new study, researchers from the University of Toronto aimed to fix that problem with an app. According to the team, the app can measure tremor strength to help doctors more accurately determine how serious the tremors are. The app can also detect whether or not the tremors are being faked. 

The team, Narges Norouzi and Professors Bjug Borgundvaag of the Faculty of Medicine and Parham Aarabi of The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto, recruited 49 patients who complained about tremors in an emergency department as well as 12 nurses who were instructed to mimic the tremors. The team used the app to test the tremors.

The app works by measuring the frequency of the tremors in both hands and takes 20 seconds. Overall, the team found that 75 percent of the patients had tremors with an average peak frequency of higher than seven cycles per second. The researchers found that only 17 percent of the nurses had tremors over seven cycles per second.

"There's so much work to do in this field," said Norouzi according to the press release. "There is other work out there on Parkinson's tremors, but much less on tremors from alcohol withdrawal."

The researchers stated that determining the severity of tremors and whether or not the tremors are real is important. Typically doctors use benzodiazepine drugs to treat alcohol withdrawal, anxiety and insomnia. Since withdrawal usually manifests via tremors in the hands, doctors are worried that people who want to be prescribed benzodiazepine so that they can abuse them will come into the emergency room and fake their withdrawal symptoms. This app could potentially detect people who are lying about their symptoms in order to get drugs.

Professor Borgundvaag added, "Our app may also be useful in assisting withdrawal management staff, who typically have no clinical training, and determining which patients should be transferred to the emergency department for medical treatment or assessment. We think our app has great potential to improve treatment for these patients overall."

The study's findings are set to be presented at the International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Chicago.

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