Functioning like a "pacemaker" for the brain, DBS uses electrodes implanted in the brain to send out electrical impulses to different areas in the brain linked to disorders. The surgery and electrical impulse treatment do not destroy brain tissue.
When treating Parkinson's disease, for example, the inserted DBS device called a neurostimulator, sends electrical impulses through the wire into the brain to control the movement center. The stimulation blocks abnormal activity in the brain and relieves patients of tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement, stiffness and may help with other problems associated with their conditions. It does not, however, cure patients of their disorders.
The electrode stimulation can be adjusted as the patient's condition changes.
DBS surgery involves putting the tip of a hair-thin wire inside the brain in a special area that controls movement. The patient is awake during surgery to allow the surgical team to assess the patient's brain functions. The small wire runs up through a small hole in the skull and under the scalp, down to a small device implanted under the collarbone. Local anesthetic is applied to these areas, and the patient is occasionally sedated.
While the electrode is being advanced through the brain, the patient does not feel any pain. Most dystonia patients have two implants — one on each side of the brain.
At UCSF, the two implants for dystonia patients are usually placed the same day. For adults, the surgery is done with the patient awake for part of the procedure, but children can have it done entirely under general anesthesia.
The most serious potential risk associated with the procedure is bleeding in the brain, which can lead to stroke. Risk of stroke ranges from 1 percent to 3 percent among patients. Infection, which occurs in 3 percent to 4 percent of patients, is another risk. If infection occurs, it is usually not life threatening, but may require removal of the entire DBS system.