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Deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson's

Koki Patel, who has Parkinson's, sitting on a bench near her home. Koki has had deep brain stimulation surgery.

Deep brain stimulation (or DBS) is the main type of surgery used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's. It's not a cure, but it may help to control your movement symptoms.

It may also mean that someone has to take less medication, which can reduce the risk of medication side effects, such as involuntary movements (dyskinesia).

For more about deep brain stimulation and other forms for surgery, take a look at our free Surgery for Parkinson's booklet.

Who is suitable for deep brain stimulation?

Not everyone will be suitable for deep brain stimulation and it won't work for everyone who has the operation. But you can discuss the option with your specialist or Parkinson's nurse.

What does deep brain stimulation involve?

Deep brain stimulation involves implanting very fine wires with electrodes at their tips into the brain.

These are connected to extensions that are tunnelled under the skin behind the ear and down the neck. They are connected to a pulse generator (a device like a pacemaker), which is placed under the skin around the chest or stomach area.

Everyone with Parkinson’s is different. Although deep brain stimulation has improved my life, it may not be right for someone else.

Koki, diagnosed in 2006

When the device is switched on, the electrodes deliver high frequency stimulation to the targeted area. This stimulation changes some of the electrical signals in the brain that cause the symptoms of Parkinson's.

Your specialist or Parkinson's nurse will programme the device using a small portable computer. It may take several months to fully programme the stimulator and adjust your Parkinson's medication to get the most benefit from the surgery.

Deep brain stimulation is a 'non-destructive' type of surgery, so it doesn't destroy any part of the brain. It's also reversible in many cases if no damage occurs during surgery.

Surgery may take place under general anaesthetic (when you are asleep) or you may be awake for part of the procedure – it depends at which centre you have the surgery.

Where is deep brain stimulation carried out?

Deep brain stimulation is only carried out at certain centres in the UK. You can choose which centre you are referred to, even if it is not near your home.

Things to bear in mind

If you go into hospital in the future, make sure staff and other healthcare professionals, including dentists and physiotherapists, are aware you have had deep brain stimulation.

Surgery isn’t a cure and it didn’t make me 100% better, but I take less than half the amount of medication I used to.

From our online forum

Diathermy is the use of a high frequency electronic current to produce heat and is often used to relax muscles. It should not be used if you have had deep brain stimulation.

MRI scans, a type of brain scan, can only be used under very strict conditions. Antibiotics have to be prescribed when there is a risk of germs getting into the blood stream, for example during dental procedures or surgery.

Most everyday activities are safe, but there are some that could damage the system. You should talk to your specialist about this. 

You can travel by plane, but you should inform airport security and carry a card that explains that you have had this type of surgery. You should also carry the hand-held programmer when travelling. This is in case the stimulator is accidentally switched off.

More forms of surgery for Parkinson's

Last Information Standard review July 2015. Next review July 2018.