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Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s: How Does It Work?

Updated on October 25, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder that causes symptoms such as slowness, rigidity, poor balance, and dystonia (involuntary movement). There is no cure yet for PD, but treatment options can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Over the last few decades, there has been increasing interest in the use of deep brain stimulation (DBS) to help control movement. Here’s how it works.

What Is DBS?

DBS is a treatment option that involves the surgical implantation of electrodes inside the brain. DBS surgery is done by a neurosurgeon (brain surgeon) who can implant the neurostimulator system.

A DBS system also involves insulated wire that connects to the electrodes. This wire is passed under the skin of the head, neck, and shoulder to connect to an internal pulse generator. The generator is similar to a pacemaker and is typically implanted under the skin in the upper chest near the collarbone. The generator allows the DBS electrodes to produce electrical impulses that target specific areas of the brain.

How Is DBS Used for Parkinson’s?

You may be a good candidate for DBS if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your symptoms of Parkinson’s substantially reduce your quality of life
  • Your symptoms aren’t well controlled, despite receiving appropriate medications
  • You can’t tolerate dyskinesia or other side effects from current medications

DBS, in general, uses electrical signals to target certain areas of the brain. For people with Parkinson’s, DBS targets parts of the brain known to play a role in the control of movement. These regions include the:

  • Thalamus, which relays sensory and motor (movement) information
  • Subthalamic nucleus, which helps suppress unwanted movement
  • Globus pallidus, which helps regulate intentional movement

Research has shown that electrical stimulation from DBS in the subthalamic nuclei may significantly improve motor symptoms associated with PD compared to taking medications alone. Improved motor symptoms may also lead to improvements in overall mobility and comfort, daily functioning, and emotional well-being.

Another study showed that people with PD experienced improved motor function after stimulation in the subthalamic or pallidal areas, but stimulation of these areas affected other symptoms differently. For example, depression worsened after subthalamic stimulation but improved after pallidal stimulation. Your neurologist may decide to stimulate different areas depending on your individual symptoms, needs, and preferences.

What Are the Side Effects of DBS?

As a surgical procedure, DBS may have its own risks and side effects. For instance, one study showed that DBS may also sometimes lead to cognitive issues. There can also be complications from the DBS surgery itself. Side effects and complications of DBS surgery may include:

  • Headache
  • Temporary swelling and pain at the implantation site
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizure
  • Infection
  • Stroke

As side effects of the stimulation itself, you may experience some numbness or tingling, lightheadedness, balance and speech problems, muscle tightness, or mood changes.

Find Your Community

MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones. On MyParkinsonsTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Are you considering DBS for Parkinson’s? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyParkinsonsTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer and editor. She received her doctoral training in biological psychology at the University of Tennessee. Learn more about her here.

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