Deep Brain Stimulation

What is Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)?

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure chosen by patients to implant electrodes into specific regions of the brain. These electrodes, known as leads, produce electrical impulses to regulate abnormal brain activity. Additionally, they can address chemical imbalances in the brain contributing to various conditions. A programmable generator, positioned beneath the skin in the upper chest, controls the stimulation of these brain areas.

The DBS system comprises three key components:
1. The electrode, also called the lead, is a slender, insulated wire inserted through a small opening in the skull and placed into a targeted brain area.
2. The extension wire, similarly insulated, runs beneath the skin of the head, neck, and shoulder, linking the electrode to the internal pulse generator (IPG).
3. The IPG, the third component, is typically implanted under the skin in the upper chest.

DBS serves as a surgical remedy for individuals grappling with movement disorders like essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, and dystonia. Additionally, it can address symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy. Typically, this procedure becomes necessary when medications fail to sustain a satisfactory quality of life for patients.

These conditions collectively impact hundreds of thousands of individuals globally. DBS has been instrumental in treating over 160,000 individuals for a spectrum of neurological ailments.

DBS is employed when medications fail to sustain a satisfactory quality of life for patients. If any of the symptoms mentioned above persist for an extended period, it’s crucial to consult your doctor. Discuss with them whether DBS is the appropriate treatment option for you.

The electrodes and electrical systems responsible for stimulation are typically well tolerated, with minimal impact on surrounding brain tissue. However, there’s a possibility of electrode migration from the initial implantation site. Additionally, temporary worsening of tremors may occur when stimulation ceases. Risks associated with surgery rise in individuals aged 70 and older, as well as those with conditions like cerebrovascular disease and high blood pressure. It’s essential to thoroughly consider the benefits and risks of surgery. While many patients report substantial improvement post-DBS surgery, outcomes vary, and there’s no assurance of success for every individual.


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) offers a treatment avenue for various conditions impacting brain function and mental health. Typically considered after other treatments have proven ineffective, DBS is frequently utilized for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. However, ongoing research explores its potential applications across a broad spectrum of ailments. Despite involving two to three surgical procedures, DBS demonstrates high efficacy in alleviating symptoms and addressing conditions that significantly impact quality of life.

Who benefits from deep brain stimulation?

DBS addresses conditions impacting the functionality of neurons, crucial brain cells. When neurons function improperly, it impairs the abilities under their control. The severity of the issue determines whether these abilities are partially or entirely lost.

Conditions potentially benefiting from DBS

Researchers are exploring the potential of DBS to aid in various other conditions, including:

  • Addictions.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cluster headaches.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Severe pain disorders (particularly nerve- or brain-related pain, or pain associated with incurable diseases like cancer).
  • Severe, medication-resistant depression.
  • Tourette syndrome.

It’s crucial to note that while these conditions might show promise with DBS, definitive conclusions are yet to be drawn. Typically, extensive research and clinical trials spanning years are necessary to establish the efficacy of medical procedures like DBS for these conditions. While investigations are ongoing, DBS surgery for these purposes remains uncommon.


Each disease presents a range of symptoms that patients may encounter. Common ones include:


  • Involuntary muscle contractions, particularly during specific actions like writing.
  • Exacerbation of muscle contractions with stress, fatigue, or anxiety.


  • Temporary confusion.
  • Staring spells.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms or legs.
  • Emotional responses such as fear, anxiety, or déjà vu.

Essential Tremor:

  • Tremors manifesting during routine activities like writing or drinking.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

  • Fear of germs or contamination.
  • Aggressive thoughts towards oneself or others.
  • Need for symmetry or perfect order.
  • Excessive cleaning or handwashing.
  • Compulsive counting.
  • Repeated checking behaviors (e.g., ensuring the oven is off, door is locked, etc.).

Parkinson’s Disease:

  • Tremors.
  • Bradykinesia, which is a slowing down of movement.
  • Stiffness.
  • Abnormal gait.
Surgery Benefits, Risks and Complications


  • Can target one or both sides of the brain, depending on symptomatology.
  • Customizable effects tailored to each patient’s clinical condition.
  • Adjustable stimulation settings to mitigate potential side effects and enhance long-term efficacy.
  • Continuous symptom management round the clock.
  • Patients who undergo DBS remain eligible for other emerging treatments like stem cell or gene therapy.
  • DBS presents a treatment avenue when medications prove ineffective: When medications fail or lose efficacy, DBS emerges as an alternative. In Parkinson’s disease, as medication effectiveness diminishes over time, dosage adjustments become necessary, often resulting in adverse effects. DBS can restore efficacy at lower medication doses, effectively controlling symptoms while minimizing side effects.
  • It holds the potential to be transformative, if not life-saving: For conditions managed by DBS, debilitating effects can impede daily activities. DBS intervention can alleviate symptoms, enhancing overall quality of life. In cases like medication-resistant epilepsy, where surgical resection isn’t viable, DBS offers hope and a reduction in seizure frequency.

  • It offers adjustability: Healthcare providers can tailor the pulse generator settings to suit individual needs, optimizing treatment effectiveness.

  • It’s reversible: Should DBS fail to yield desired outcomes or trigger intolerable side effects, a follow-up procedure can remove the leads and pulse generator, providing reversibility of the intervention.


When appropriately selected, DBS is deemed safe and efficient. Although risks and potential side effects exist, they are typically mild and reversible. Possible risks encompass:

  • 1% chance of brain hemorrhage or stroke
  • Infection
  • Device malfunction
  • Partial symptom alleviation
  • Headaches
  • Deterioration in mental or emotional well-being During stimulation, side effects may include:
  • Temporary tingling sensation in the face or limbs
  • Muscle tension sensation
  • Speech or vision impairments
  • Balance issues


Complications related to the leads and pulse generator may arise, such as:

  • Shifting or misplacement of leads.
  • Dislodgement of lead wires from the pulse generator.
  • Malfunction of the leads or pulse generator.
  • Pain or discomfort around the pulse generator site.
Programming the Pulse generator and side effects of DBS

DBS employs electrical currents to stimulate specific brain regions. Adjusting and refining this current is often necessary to achieve optimal results. Consequently, the following symptoms may occur while your healthcare provider fine-tunes the pulse generator programming:

  • Balance issues.
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating.
  • Double vision (diplopia).
  • Memory difficulties.
  • Numbness and tingling sensations in specific body areas.
  • Seizures.
  • Unexpected alterations in brain function, potentially affecting bodily functions (e.g., sudden weakness or muscle control issues in a particular body part).
  • Depression.
Recovery and Prognosis

What is the expected recovery time?

Your healthcare provider is your best source of information regarding your recovery timeline and when you can anticipate changes in your symptoms and overall well-being. They can provide insight into the anticipated recovery period, which may vary based on factors such as your overall health, existing conditions, and individual circumstances.

Typically, most individuals spend one day in the hospital following surgery to implant the DBS leads into their brain. Surgery to implant the pulse generator often allows for same-day discharge.

In general, recovery typically spans several weeks. Your healthcare provider may advise the following:

  • Refrain from engaging in any activities for approximately two weeks post-surgery: This includes even minor tasks like household chores or sexual activity. It’s recommended to avoid lifting anything heavier than 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms).
  • Avoid moderate- to high-intensity activities for at least four to six weeks: This encompasses exercises and physical labor. After this period, most individuals can resume work or their usual routines.
  • Exercise caution when moving or stretching: Certain movements, such as raising your hands above your head, should be avoided for several days after pulse generator surgery. Your healthcare provider will provide guidance on how long movement restrictions should be observed.

How should I attend to the surgical site after returning home?
Your healthcare provider will furnish you with specific instructions on caring for the surgical areas. Generally, adhere to the following guidelines (unless directed otherwise):

  • Stitches or staples will typically be removed about 10 to 14 days post-surgery by your provider.
  • Keep the pin sites on your head covered with bandages until they are dry. Change these bandages at least once daily, or as directed by your provider.
  • Dressing can be removed two days post-surgery.
  • You may shower at this point, ensuring that water runs over your head without scratching the area.
  • When using shampoo, opt for baby shampoo and be extremely gentle. Pat the area dry instead of rubbing it.
  • Avoid scratching around the incision site, as it can lead to wound damage and potential infections.
Frequently Askes Questions

When should I schedule appointments with my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will arrange follow-up visits after your procedures. Programming sessions will be scheduled with your neurologist, requiring you to make appointments to meet with them. These visits aim to determine optimal settings that effectively manage your symptoms without causing disruptive side effects.

Regular appointments with your healthcare provider are customary for monitoring your condition, symptoms, and making adjustments to medications or other treatments as necessary. Your provider will discuss the frequency of these visits with you.

When should I contact my healthcare provider or seek emergency care?
Given that DBS involves surgical intervention, particularly on the brain, there are specific warning signs that warrant immediate attention. It’s crucial not to ignore the following symptoms:

– Sudden or persistent severe headache.
– Bleeding from incision sites.
– Presence of redness, swelling, or abnormal warmth around incisions, indicative of possible infection.
– Abrupt alterations in vision, including double vision, blurred vision, or vision loss.
– Fever of 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C) or higher.

What is the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation?
Overall, deep brain stimulation is typically successful, with its efficacy varying based on the specific condition being treated. For ailments such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, DBS demonstrates high effectiveness. However, further research is required for experimental conditions to ascertain the likelihood of DBS efficacy.

Can I use electrical and electronic devices with DBS implants?
In general, electronic devices and appliances are unlikely to pose issues with the pulse generator. If interference does occur, the pulse generator may deactivate, leading to potential worsening of symptoms or discomfort.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Your healthcare provider will provide you with essential items to keep on hand: an ID card and a patient programmer. The ID card aids in situations involving specific electronic devices like metal detectors or anti-theft scanners. The patient programmer enables you to manage device activation, adjust stimulation settings as necessary.
  • Common household appliances such as microwaves, computers, smartphones, and other electronics typically do not cause interference or complications with your pulse generator.
  • Having DBS leads and a pulse generator implanted restricts certain medical and diagnostic imaging procedures. Magnetic resonance imaging scans, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and diathermy are among the procedures that are not compatible with DBS implants.

Does deep brain stimulation provide a cure for the diseases it targets?
No, DBS does not offer a cure for the conditions it addresses. Instead, it focuses on managing the symptoms. It’s important to note that nearly all the conditions treated with DBS are chronic and incurable.

Will I need to continue taking medications following deep brain stimulation?
The necessity of medications post-DBS varies depending on the disease. While it may be feasible to reduce medication reliance, DBS is typically most effective when integrated with medications and other therapies. This combined approach often allows for potential reductions in medication dosages, minimization of side effects, while still maintaining therapeutic benefits.

Get FREE Healthcare Consultation and a Full Treatment Plan