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Focused Ultrasound for
the Treatment of Tremors

The Brain Health Center at Emory Healthcare offers focused ultrasound therapy for patients with medication-refractory essential tremors or Parkinsonian tremors. Studied in numerous clinical trials, this treatment is an alternative to invasive thalamotomy and deep brain stimulation. It provides a safe and effective way to improve the quality of life for patients who face challenges with writing, eating, speaking, and other aspects of everyday life due to tremor’s debilitating effects. 

How the Treatment Works

Focused ultrasound directs high-intensity ultrasonic energy to the ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus with MRI guidance. The resulting thermal changes in the thalamus ablate cells that are responsible for the patient’s tremor.

Treatment occurs in an MRI scanner with the patient’s head in a stereotactic frame that prevents head movement. The patient wears a special helmet that contains more than 1,000 ultrasound transducers. They are conscious during the procedure and monitored closely for safety throughout.

Our neurosurgeons first use MR imaging to identify the area for ablation. Then, through a series of treatments, they direct ultrasound beams to the target while MR thermometry instantaneously offers information about the target site temperature. The surgeon asks the patient to draw spirals and straight lines between each treatment. They compare the patient’s drawings to baseline patient drawings to evaluate tremor improvement. Treatment continues with increasing intensity until we achieve satisfactory results.

Patient Benefits

This therapy offers patients many benefits:

  • Hospitalization is unnecessary. Patients go home the day of their treatment.
  • It requires no sedation, no incision, and no radiation.
  • Most patients experience immediate, often dramatic, tremor improvement.
  • Recovery time is short. Patients typically return to normal activities within a day.
  • The treatment provides an option for patients unable or unwilling to undergo more invasive treatment.
  • Individual patient responses to treatment may vary.

Candidates for Focused Ultrasound

Originally approved for medically intractable patients with unilateral essential tremor, focused ultrasound is now FDA-approved for staged bilateral essential tremor treatment. Contralateral treatment must occur at least nine months after initial therapy.

Focused ultrasound is also available as a supplemental therapy to medication treatment for unilateral pallidotomy in people who have Parkinson’s disease with moderate to severe motor complications that are resistant to medication.

To qualify for this treatment at Emory Healthcare, a neurologist must confirm a patient’s tremor. The patient must:

  • Be at least 22 years of age if they have essential tremor or 30 years of age if they have Parkinsonian tremor.
  • Have medication-refractory tremor.
  • Our team may also consider additional factors when evaluating whether patients are suitable candidates for treatment. Physicians perform a complete medical evaluation to determine tremor severity and assess each patient’s overall condition.

Why Send Your Patient to Emory Healthcare?

Emory Healthcare consistently ranks among the nation’s best hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report. We are also among the top recipients of National Institutes of Health research funding. Our focus is to advance medical science while we deliver exceptional patient care.

We offer an array of specialized neurology centers and programs, and our physicians have exceptional training and expertise. Currently, Emory Healthcare is one of only a select number of locations in the Southeastern U.S. to offer focused ultrasound therapy for tremors.

Meet Our Team

Meet the experts who perform high-intensity focused ultrasound at Emory Healthcare.

One Patient’s Story

Duward “Mac” McDonald was the first to receive focused ultrasound therapy for tremors at Emory Healthcare. Watch his story and see how this revolutionary treatment transforms lives.

Make a Referral

To refer your patient to our experts, please complete the form below or call 404-778-3444.