After deep brain stimulation surgery, most patients experience a reduction in disease symptoms and much improved quality of life with few side effects. Patients with diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, or essential tremor find that tremors, shaking, and involuntary movements are greatly reduced, while speech and speed of movement improve. Deep brain stimulation surgery does not harm brain tissue and is completely reversible.
Doctors may recommend deep brain stimulation surgery for patients encountering troublesome tremors and involuntary movements when symptoms are too severe to be managed through medication alone. The surgery involves surgical implantation of a neurostimulating device within brain tissue. The neurostimulator is connected by wires that run under the skin to an electrical pulse generator implanted in the chest. Electrical signals from the chest implant travel through the wires to the transmitter in the brain and interrupt abnormal nerve signals produced by the brain that cause involuntary movements.
Deep brain stimulation surgery is considered relatively safe and produces few side effects. After the surgery, it may take several weeks to adjust the device and reach optimal symptom control. Doctors can control the neurotransmitter by a specially programmed computer that produces radio signals. The patient is also given a controller so the device may be adjusted or turned off if side effects become uncomfortable.
Once the neurostimulator is properly adjusted, patients usually will still need medication, but symptoms are controlled to a more tolerable degree. Patients who have had the surgery find that most major Parkinson’s disease symptoms improve, although problems with balance or walking may as they were before the surgery. The effects of the surgery last from three to five years before replacement of the device is necessary. Replacement is considered a fairly simple procedure.
In rare cases, some serious side effects, such as bleeding in the brain, stroke, and death, may result. There is a slight risk of infection from the surgery. Sometimes the wire can move after placement. If the transmitter is not placed correctly or shifts after surgery, other areas of the brain may be unintentionally stimulated, causing unwanted effects. Still, side effects are rare enough that the surgery is considered relatively safe.
Since the 1960s, treatments such as thalamotomy or pallidotomy involved surgical removal of the parts of the brain that cause disordered movements. Deep brain stimulation surgery controls these same areas of the brain without harming them. As brain tissue is not harmed, patients may benefit from other future treatments.