Outcomes from stereotactic surgery for essential tremor

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2019 Apr;90(4):474-482. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2018-318240. Epub 2018 Oct 18.


There are several different surgical procedures that are used to treat essential tremor (ET), including deep brain stimulation (DBS) and thalamotomy procedures with radiofrequency (RF), radiosurgery (RS) and most recently, focused ultrasound (FUS). Choosing a surgical treatment requires a careful presentation and discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of each. We conducted a literature review to compare the attributes and make an appraisal of these various procedures. DBS was the most commonly reported treatment for ET. One-year tremor reductions ranged from 53% to 63% with unilateral Vim DBS. Similar improvements were demonstrated with RF (range, 74%-90%), RS (range, 48%-63%) and FUS thalamotomy (range, 35%-75%). Overall, bilateral Vim DBS demonstrated more improvement in tremor reduction since both upper extremities were treated (range, 66%-78%). Several studies show continued beneficial effects from DBS up to five years. Long-term follow-up data also support RF and gamma knife radiosurgical thalamotomy treatments. Quality of life measures were similarly improved among patients who received all treatments. Paraesthesias, dysarthria and ataxia were commonly reported adverse effects in all treatment modalities and were more common with bilateral DBS surgery. Many of the neurological complications were transient and resolved after surgery. DBS surgery had the added benefit of programming adjustments to minimise stimulation-related complications. Permanent neurological complications were most commonly reported for RF thalamotomy. Thalamic DBS is an effective, safe treatment with a long history. For patients who are medically unfit or reluctant to undergo DBS, several thalamic lesioning methods have parallel benefits to unilateral DBS surgery. Each of these surgical modalities has its own nuance for treatment and patient selection. These factors should be carefully considered by both neurosurgeons and patients when selecting an appropriate treatment for ET.

Keywords: electrical stimulation; stereotaxic surgery; tremor; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Protocols
  • Deep Brain Stimulation / methods*
  • Essential Tremor / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Prosthesis Implantation
  • Radiofrequency Ablation / methods*
  • Radiosurgery / methods*
  • Stereotaxic Techniques*
  • Thalamus / surgery*
  • Ultrasonic Surgical Procedures / methods*