Focused Ultrasound: FAQs

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What is focused ultrasound?

Focused ultrasound combines high-frequency (ultrasound) energy with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This procedure safely and accurately treats tissue deep within the body without the need for incisions. 

How focused ultrasound work?

Focused ultrasound disrupts the brain activity responsible for the tremors while protecting normal, healthy tissue, by:

  • Using MRI to accurately target brain tissue responsible for the tremors
  • Delivering concentrated beams of ultrasound energy to the treatment area
  • Disrupting the abnormal electrical activity in the brain and relieve your symptoms

What are the side effects of focused ultrasound treatment?

  • Sensory disturbance: Patients sometime feel numbness or tingling in their fingertips or lips on the side of the body getting treated. The sensations tend to be very mild and temporary. Very few patients describe these feelings as uncomfortable. In 10-15% of cases, the sensations may be permanent.
  • Gait disturbance or imbalance: Patients commonly feel unsteady on their feet after the procedure. Typically, this only lasts through the 1st or 2nd week after the procedure. In clinical studies, permanent unsteadiness was reported in up to 10% of the patients.
  • Minor side effects, such as headache, pain and dizziness: Some patients may feel warmth, pain or dizziness lasting only for a few seconds during the procedure. These effects are not felt after the procedure.
  • Major side effects, such as stroke, infection or seizures: The risk for experiencing these side effects is very low.

What might prevent me from getting focused ultrasound treatment?

Focused ultrasound is not available for people with certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease, or those who can’t undergo an MRI for any reason (such as having an implanted medical device, like a pacemaker). Your doctor will discuss the best treatment options for you.

Are there any rules on how I should dress the day of treatment?

Wear loose-fitting clothes without any metal (no zippers, studs, metal fasteners, etc.).

What will happen to me on the day of treatment?

You'll meet with the anesthesiology team to review your medical history and medications. They also go over any medications you might be given during the procedure. You may be hooked up to an IV catheter or other equipment. There may be other preparations to make depending on the condition you are being treated for.

Once you’re ready, you'll be encouraged to use the restroom before beginning the procedure. You'll also get to see your family members or whoever you've brought with you before we have them leave the building.

You'll be hooked up to a monitor so that we can track your vital signs. We'll check on you frequently during the procedure, and we'll be able to talk to you and hear you in the MRI scanner.

What happens during the procedure?

  • You lie on a table and we secure your head in a helmet-like device, called a transducer.
  • The table rolls you into the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, which is a large hollow tube. If you're afraid of confined spaces, we can give you medication to help you relax.
  • The MRI scanner produces high-resolution images of your brain, which helps us pinpoint the area responsible for the tremor, called the thalamus.
  • The transducer delivers over 1,000 beams of sound waves to the thalamus. Individual beams pass through the skull without any disruption. Where the beams cross, they create heat (thermal ablation) that destroys brain tissue at the focal point.
  • We monitor the location and intensity of your treatment. We may also ask you to perform simple tasks, such as moving your hands or fingers, during treatment. These safety checks help us ensure the success of your treatment.
  • Once the procedure is complete, you're removed from the MRI.

What is recovery like after the procedure?

You should be fully awake and able to eat and drink right away. You may be able to leave the facility about an hour after the treatment is complete.

Where can I park my car on the day of treatment?

There is a designated parking spot on the side of the building. You'll get the parking pass from the technologist when you arrive.

Please bring a family member or friend with you who can drive you home.

Can loved ones wait in the focused ultrasound building while I’m being treated?

No, but your companions can wait in the main hospital lobby or the surgical waiting room. Some choose to return to their home or hotel room or go elsewhere in town. They'll be given an update during the procedure and notified when the procedure is ending, so they may return to the facility.

Is focused ultrasound covered by my insurance?

The FDA has approved focused ultrasound to treat uterine fibroids, essential tremor and Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, insurance companies don't currently cover this treatment for any of those conditions.