2 The condition, current treatments and procedure

2 The condition, current treatments and procedure

The condition

2.1 Essential tremor is the most common cause of disabling tremor and is distinct from Parkinson's disease. It typically affects the arms and hands, although it may also involve the head, jaw, tongue and legs. The cause is not known but many patients have a family history of the condition. At first, the tremor may not be present all the time. However, it gradually worsens. Purposeful movement, stress, tiredness, hunger, heightened emotions or extremes in temperature make it worse.

Current treatments

2.2 Treatment for essential tremor includes medications such as beta blockers (for example, propranolol), anti-epileptics (for example, primidone) or sedatives (for example, clonazepam). Rarely, injections of botulinum toxin may be used.

2.3 Surgery may be considered in people whose condition has not responded adequately to best medical therapy. Surgical treatments include deep brain stimulation and radiofrequency thalamotomy.

The procedure

2.4 This procedure is carried out with the patient lying supine inside an MRI scanner. The patient's head is shaved and a stereotactic head frame is attached. Patients are kept awake so they can report any improvement or adverse events to the operator during the procedure. However, they may be offered light sedation. Continuous MRI and thermal mapping are used to identify the target area of the brain and monitor treatment. Low power (sub-lethal) ultrasound is delivered to confirm the chosen location. Then, high-power focused ultrasound pulses are administered to irreversibly ablate target tissue. Chilled water is circulated around the head during the treatment to prevent thermal damage to the scalp caused by the increase in bone temperature. The procedure takes about 3 hours and symptom relief should be immediate.

2.5 The potential benefits of unilateral MRI-guided focused ultrasound thalamotomy are that it: is less invasive than the other existing procedures; results in a faster recovery time; and allows for testing of the effects of sub-lethal doses before ablation. However, it is only done on 1 side.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)