WEDNESDAY, Nov. 27, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Ultrasound may provide lasting relief from the involuntary muscle movements that are so debilitating to people with Parkinson’s disease and another condition called “essential tremor,” a small study concludes.
The treatment is still scarce, but it appears to deliver significant and lasting tremor relief, Italian researchers report.
It’s called “focused ultrasound.” Though characterized as surgery, it’s actually a noninvasive procedure that involves no incisions.
For patients with uncontrolled muscle movements, clinicians use it to target beams of sound energy toward a small tremor-control center in the brain called the thalamus. The beams heat up the thalamus and destroy part of it.
“The clinical application of this technique for neurological diseases is an absolute novelty,” study author Dr. Federico Bruno, a radiologist at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, said in a statement. “Few patients know of this treatment option so far, and there are not many specialized centers equipped with the required technology.”
He pointed out that focused ultrasound received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval less than three years ago as a tremor-control treatment.
Before then, patients had to rely on other interventions, according to Dr. Rachel Dolhun, vice president of medical communications for the Michael J. Fox Foundation in New York City.
“Exercise, medication and surgical therapies such as deep brain stimulation are all possibilities for consideration,” she noted.
But exercise and medication don’t always work. And while deep brain stimulation (DBS) targets the same brain area as noninvasive ultrasound, it is highly invasive.
Surgeons must enter the skull and chest to insert wires, electrodes and a pacemaker-like pulse generator. It can also be tricky after surgery to calibrate the device to maximize tremor reduction and minimize unwanted side effects.
Plus, patients with heart and bleeding problems may be ineligible for the procedure, Dolhun and her team said, as are those with memory and thinking issues. The DBS equipment also requires vigilant maintenance, in the form of regular battery replacement.
By comparison, focused ultrasound, though irreversible, “requires shorter hospitalization and is a fairly well-tolerated procedure even by more fragile patients,” Bruno said.