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Department of Neurological Surgery

More Information About Deep Brain Stimulation

What is deep brain stimulation?

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a type of brain surgery. During this surgery, thin wires (electrodes) are implanted permanently into specific areas of the brain. These electrodes are connected by wires under the skin to a small electrical unit called a generator. The generator is similar to a heart pacemaker and is placed under the skin of the chest. It allows for constant electrical stimulation of specific brain areas involved in movement disorders.

What is the advantage of DBS compared to other surgical techniques?

Older surgical approaches to movement disorders involved destruction of brain tissue and were therefore irreversible. In contrast, DBS allows us to control the abnormal activity of brain cells near the stimulating electrode without destroying brain tissue. In addition, the generator can be adjusted or turned off, allowing for greater flexibility in the treatment of neurological conditions. Under most circumstances, we believe that this technology is superior to and safer than other surgical techniques, such as pallidotomy or thalamotomy.

What movement disorders are eligible for treatment with DBS?

DBS is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. It is FDA-approved for humanitarian use in generalized or focal dystonia, which includes the diagnosis of torticollis. Medicare also considers the use of DBS as appropriate therapy to consider in patients with essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, and dystonia.

How does DBS help movement problems? Is it a cure?

The goal of DBS is to improve the control of movement. Depending on the type of movement disorder, this may result in a reduction in tremor, rigidity, dyskinesia or dystonia. Your neurologist and neurosurgeon will discuss specifically which of your symptoms they anticipate to improve with DBS surgery.

DBS is not a cure for any disease. It helps control the symptoms of your condition and may provide you with a better quality of life. Surgery will not make your illness go away, and has not been shown to prevent the progression of disease.

If you or your patient might benefit from DBS therapy, contact the Vanderbilt Movement Disorders Clinic, which the National Parkinson's Disease Foundation has recognized as a Center of Excellence.

More information about DBS:

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