Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson's Disease

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Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptoms—most commonly the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), such as tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement, and walking problems. The procedure is also used to treat essential tremor, a common neurological movement disorder. At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications.

Unlike previous surgeries for PD, DBS does not damage healthy brain tissue by destroying nerve cells. Instead the procedure blocks electrical signals from targeted areas in the brain. Thus, if newer, more promising treatments develop in the future, the DBS procedure can be reversed. Also, stimulation from the neurostimulator is easily adjustable—without further surgery—if the patient’s condition changes. Some people describe the stimulator adjustments as "programming."

Although most patients still need to take medication after undergoing DBS, many patients experience considerable reduction of their PD symptoms and are able to greatly reduce their medications. The amount of reduction varies from patient to patient but can be considerably reduced in most patients. The reduction in dose of medication leads to a significant improvement in side effects such as dyskinesias (involuntary movements caused by long-term use of levodopa). In some cases, the stimulation itself can suppress dyskinesias without a reduction in medication.

Prepared by the National Institutes of Health