Focused ultrasound is an incision-free, minimally invasive treatment for essential tremor, a neurological condition in which uncontrollable shaking – most often in the hands, head or voice – happens during movement. Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder, affecting an estimated 10 million Americans. For some people, the shakiness is so severe that it impedes their ability to function. Although the cause is not well understood, research has shown that the tremor can be alleviated by treating a small area deep inside the brain that regulates movement; this tiny area is the ventral intermediate (Vim) nucleus of the thalamus.

During this outpatient procedure, high-intensity sound waves, guided by MRI, are focused on the Vim. These sound waves pass painlessly and safely through skin, bone and brain to reach their target. Much as a magnifying glass can focus sunlight to burn a hole in paper, the focused ultrasound generates enough heat to burn cells in the Vim without harming surrounding tissue. Recovery time is short, and the treatment can significantly reduce tremor, improving the ability to perform daily activities, such as eating, drinking and writing. It does not, however, cure the underlying disease.

Targeting the same area of the thalamus, focused ultrasound can also be used to treat tremors for patients with tremor-dominant Parkinson's disease. UCSF doctors are at the forefront of investigations into the use of focused ultrasound to treat other conditions, including brain tumors and prostate cancer.

Are you a candidate?

To be eligible for this treatment, you must answer yes to all of the following questions:

  • Have you been diagnosed with essential tremor?
  • Have you tried at least two medications for your tremor?
  • Does your tremor affect your quality of life?
  • Would you be comfortable lying still in an MRI scanner for two to three hours?
  • Are you over the age of 22?

If you meet all five criteria, you may be a candidate for treatment with focused ultrasound. Please have your doctor fax or email us a referral and a copy of your insurance card. For more information, feel free to give us a call.