Utility of routine surface electrophysiology to screen for functional tremor prior to surgical treatment of essential tremor

Claudia Z. Chou, J. Eric Ahlskog, Bryan T. Klassen, Elizabeth A. Coon, Farwa Ali, James H. Bower, Rodolfo Savica, Anhar Hassan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Patients with functional tremor may be clinically misdiagnosed as “medication-refractory” essential tremor (ET) and referred for surgical treatment. Electrophysiology can screen for functional tremor and avoid inappropriate surgery. Objective: To report the utility of surface electrophysiology (SEMG) to screen for functional tremor in patients referred for ET surgery. Methods: Retrospective review of consecutive ET patients referred to the Mayo Clinic DBS clinic over 1.5 years. Included subjects had a clinical diagnosis of medication-refractory ET and completed presurgical workup including routine SEMG tremor study. Results: Of 87 subjects, 9 (10%) were clinically suspected of functional tremor by the DBS neurologist. Electrophysiology confirmed functional tremor features in 7/9 and ET in the other 2/9; and newly identified 5 additional cases of functional tremor. There were 12 total confirmed cases of functional tremor: isolated in 1, and mixed functional tremor and ET in 11. Of 11 mixed patients, 6 with mild functional overlay were approved for surgery. The remaining 5 patients with moderate-severe functional overlay and the single patient with isolated functional tremor were referred to the functional tremor motor retraining program. Of these, 1 patient with mixed tremor had residual disabling organic ET after program completion and was later approved for surgery. Thus, 5/87 patients (6%) avoided unnecessary surgery. Conclusions: Functional tremor may frequently overlay “medication-refractory” ET amongst patients referred for surgery, affecting 1 of 7 patients in our quaternary referral DBS center. Electrophysiology studies are useful to routinely screen patients and prevent unnecessary surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100149
JournalClinical Parkinsonism and Related Disorders
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Essential tremor
  • Functional
  • Movement disorder
  • Thalamotomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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