Deep Brain Stimulation

What Is DBS?

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a treatment that can dramatically improve many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including tremors, stiffness, and slowness of the arms and legs. DBS can also provide significant relief to patients with essential tremors and dystonia (abnormal muscle contractions).

The source of tremor, stiffness, slowness, or any abnormal movements is actually in the brain, not the muscles. Science has shown that bad electrical brain activity is the reason patients experience these symptoms.

This irregular, or abnormal, brain activity can be fixed by delivering small, safe amounts of electricity into the brain itself so that it starts working more normally. This is why DBS is sometimes referred to as a “brain pacemaker.” Like the heart, the brain starts working better when it receives small, regular pulses of electricity through the DBS system. DBS is a reversible therapy and can be turned off and/or completely removed if an alternative treatment or cure becomes available for the patient’s disease. 

Traditional DBS 

Traditionally, this procedure was performed during surgery in an operating room, so the patient had to stop all medications the night before surgery. Most Parkinson’s patients became immobile and psychologically stressed when off of medications, finding it difficult or painful to stop medication the night before surgery.

Patients were lightly sedated during the beginning and the end of the surgery but were awake and speaking with the doctors in the middle of the surgery so certain symptoms, like tremor, could be tested. This more traditional type of surgery was difficult for most patients who were  rightly concerned about the distress and trauma of undergoing awake brain surgery. 

Asleep DBS

Willis-Knighton Medical Center is one of just a few centers in the South that offer this specialized therapy for adults. Asleep DBS has replaced traditional DBS for patients with dystonia, tremors or Parkinson’s disease. This updated surgical procedure places deep brain stimulating electrodes into the brain while the patient sleeps under general anesthesia.

Advantages are:

  • Performed in interventional MRI suite, not in operating suite
  • Patient is asleep under general anesthesia throughout the entire procedure
  • Patient may take usual medications on the morning of the surgery
  • Much more comfortable for patient
  • High quality MRI image gives the surgeon a detailed view of the brain
  • MRI scans throughout procedure offer maximum accuracy and safety (no need for patients to talk to surgeon)
  • No exposure to the radiation of other imaging methods, like computed tomography (CT) scans