Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a therapeutic procedure that delivers electrical signals to select parts of the brain. This well-established technique is used to treat a variety of conditions in which electrical impulses are delivered to parts of the brain that regulate movement, pain, mood, weight or awakening. The goal is to disrupt certain brain pathways that are causing neurological symptoms. The electrical signals help control or possibly stop the symptoms of certain neurological conditions, including movement disorders and chronic pain.

Why Deep Brain Stimulation is Performed

Neurologists may recommend DBS when other therapies are not successful or there are no other treatment options. For example, if medication is no longer working to control tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease or frequent seizures associated with epilepsy, deep brain stimulation may significantly help improve a patient’s quality of life.

Conditions treated through Deep Brain Stimulation include:

  • Essential tremor, which is not due to Parkinson’s
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Dystonia
  • Epilepsy 
  • Parkinson’s disease tremor
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Chronic pain

Who is a Candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation?

Deep brain stimulation is used to treat a variety of neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, dystonia and epilepsy. However, this treatment is reserved for people who aren’t able to get control of their symptoms with medications.

What Happens During Deep Brain Stimulation?

Deep brain stimulation surgery is a two-part process: surgery to implant the electrodes in the brain and a minor surgery to implant the stimulator under the skin near the patient's collarbone. DBS is a stereotactic procedure, meaning it relies on three-dimensional (3-D) mapping with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to pinpoint the target area.

For the brain surgery portion of the procedure, the patient is given local anesthetic and fitted with a special head frame to keep the head perfectly still. Then  magnetic resonance imaging is used to map the patient’s brain and identify where they’ll put the electrodes.

The procedure takes three to four hours. Once the electrodes are in place, the surgeon closes the incision.

The second part of the surgery places the stimulator. A few weeks after surgery the impulse generator is turned on, at which time the programing is initiated. The surgeon reopens the incision in the skull to access the lead wires and threads them down to below the collarbone. The surgeon then places the electrical pulse generator through an incision in your chest wall or abdomen and connects it to the lead wires.

Deep Brain Stimulation Recovery

Following both procedures, our surgeon will discuss what activities the patient should avoid during the recovery process. The patient will also be taught how to set the stimulator to control the pulse generator. 

Multidisciplinary Team

Patients receive a comprehensive work up by a multidisciplinary team and the benefit of full modality therapy options including acute rehabilitation for post-procedure fine motor programming. Our team includes:

  • Movement disorders and other specialized neurologists who oversee the patient’s care
  • Neurosurgeons who implant DBS hardware
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists who support patients following DBS surgery

Learn more about St. John's Deep Brain Stimulation Program

For more information about this groundbreaking procedure, please call (805) 988-7144.