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140-Degree Heat Steadies Patient's Shaking Hands

Actress Katharine Hepburn lived with it. So do some 10 million others in the United States. Essential tremors (ET) are the most common of movement disorders.

The tremors can affect a patient’s ability to eat, dress, write, work around the house or even hold down a job. Tremors are blamed on the wiring of the brain, which can make parts of the brain overactive; up to now only medications or deep brain stimulation have been options.

CHI Health’s neurological team is at the forefront of using the latest non-invasive techniques to target essential tremors. CHI Health’s Neurological Institute now offers focused ultrasound therapy, or MR guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS). It’s the best weapon yet against essential tremors.

The therapy uses both the imaging of an MRI and the heat from an ultrasound. High intensity ultrasonic waves heat tissue and destroy specific brain tissue without any incision. This high energy precisely targets the ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus – the area considered responsible for causing tremors. The targeted tissue is heated to 60 degrees Celsius (140°F). MRgFUS usually is performed on only one side of the brain to improve tremors on the opposite side of the body.

Patients are awake during the entire treatment, which destroys the nerve cells causing the tremors while resulting in an immediate reduction of essential tremors. There are no incisions or holes in the scalp, no anesthesia and the patient is awake during the procedure.

Unlike with deep brain stimulation, there’s reduced risk of infection, bleeding, formation of blood clots or damage to nearby areas of the brain.

The procedure is being performed at CHI Health St. Mary’s – one of the first Centers of Excellence in the country and only location in our region. It is expected to have a big impact on patients’ quality of life. Other systems offering the treatment include Stanford University and the Mayo Clinic.

Focused ultrasound treatment for essential tremor was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in July 2016.

Before and After Spiral Graphic

Melinda Burnett, MD