Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a type of surgical intervention used to treat moderate to severe symptoms of Parkinson's disease and essential tremor. During surgery, a wire electrode is inserted into a specific area of the brain. This electrode is connected by a wire to a pulse generator, which is implanted under the skin just below the collarbone. The pulse generator is individually programmed to stimulate the brain electrically, thereby lessening the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Although, deep brain stimulation is a treatment for Parkinson's disease and essential tremor, it cannot cure or slow the progression of the disease.
Deep Brain Stimulation Experience
Patients describe the surgery as demanding and exhausting, but not painful. The hospital stay, including preoperative tests, implant surgery, and recovery, usually lasts only a few days. Many people report that after the implant they do not experience any abnormal sensations from the stimulator. However, some people may feel a brief tingling sensation when the unit is first turned on. This sensation often disappears with time. Deep brain stimulation can be adjusted to meet the patient's needs for symptom control over time. The patient's neurologist adjusts the control unit using a programmer that communicates with the neurostimulator through radiofrequencies. This process is completely noninvasive. The deep brain stimulation unit can also be removed permanently if desired. Almost 25,000 people worldwide have received deep brain stimulation units since the device was first introduced.
Potential Risks of Surgery
Surgical risks include risks associated with any brain surgery such as hemorrhage, infection, and stroke, but the incidence of such complications is very low. Patients should ask about their neurosurgeon's experience with deep brain stimulation. The following are good questions to ask a potential neurosurgeon:
- How many deep brain stimulation implants have you done?
- How many were successful?
- What are the typical complications and their incidence in your hands? How does this compare with other surgeons?
- What is the recovery rate from such complications?