August 9, 2021

What is deep brain stimulation?

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This procedure uses electrical pulses to ease symptoms of neurological conditions.

Deep brain stimulation uses electrical stimulation to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, tremors and dystonia. DBS can help with movement problems such as tremors, stiffness and slowed movement. It can also be used to treat seizures and psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression. 

While it does not cure these conditions, DBS can ease symptoms. It may decrease the amount of medicine you need. 

Movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions are caused by faulty electrical signals in the parts of the brain that control movement. DBS blocks these signals that cause tremors and other symptoms.  

DBS places an electrode inside the brain. The electrode connects to a very small neurostimulator (electrical generator) placed in the chest. Electric current is sent from the neurostimulator to the electrode in the part of the brain causing the symptoms. 

“DBS is like a pacemaker for the brain,” said Sarah Bick, M.D., a neurosurgeon with the Vanderbilt Deep Brain Stimulation program. “It helps to interrupt the abnormal brain signaling seen in neurologic disorders and to restore normal signaling.”

What conditions does DBS treat?

DBS may be an option for certain people with neurological problems when medicines don’t control symptoms well or when side effects of the medicines interfere with daily activities. 

One of the main uses of DBS is to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can help when medicines don’t work well anymore, or when movement problems or side effects worsen. DBS does not stop PD from worsening over time.  

“DBS can even out the ups and downs in symptom control that patients sometimes have with medication dosing,” Bick said. “While it does not cure the disorder the goal is for it to improve symptom control and quality of life.”

DBS may also be used to treat:

  • Essential tremorThis causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands, head, voice, legs or trunk. 
  • Intractable pain. This pain can’t be eased by usual medical or surgical treatment. 
  • Dystonia. This is a movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily. 
  • EpilepsyThis chronic disease causes seizures. 
  • Mental health (psychiatric) conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression, when they do not respond to other treatments. 

Not everyone with these health problems are good candidates for DBS.

Long-term results of DBS

The benefits of DBS are long lasting. Many neurological conditions get worse over time. While DBS will not stop the progression of these disorders, it can continue to control symptoms for many years after the procedure.

Middle aged couple in soft focus sitting next to each other looking away in the distance.

The Vanderbilt Deep Brain Stimulation Program treats neurological conditions such as dystonia, essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. This program is one of the highest volume DBS programs in the nation. Our specialized team of experts have pioneered technologies to make DBS more accurate, safe and effective. For more information, call 615-678-0480.

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