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How Deep Brain Stimulation Stops Tremors in Parkinson’s Patients

Electrical stimulation disrupts faulty brain circuitry.

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Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, limb stiffness, and walking problems, is scary for those who live with it. At present there is no cure, and the disease can also destroy memory.

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As nearly one million people in the US live with Parkinson’s and 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year, finding treatments and potential cures is incredibly important. One such treatment, which is shown to be effective 15 years after the initial implant, is deep-brain stimulation. But what is it, and how does it work?

Understanding Deep-Brain Stimulation

Deep-brain stimulation (DBS) is restoring quality of life to patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, explains neurologist Elana Clar, MD. What’s more, DBS may soon have more far-reaching implications, as it’s being studied to treat conditions like chronic pain.

DBS uses electrical stimulation to disrupt the faulty brain circuitry that triggers loss of control over movement, explains Dr. Clar. People who have the procedure often reduce their need for medication and occasionally eliminate it altogether. During surgery, two electrodes are placed (one on each side of the brain) and tiny wires connect them to a stimulator implanted under the skin in the chest.

Illustration of deep brain stimulation, profile of human with diagram of brain and electrodes against a blue background
illustration of deep-brain stimulation.Teeradej/Shutterstock

Doctors use sophisticated imaging and recording of brain cells to ensure correct placement of the electrodes.

They also briefly wake the patient during surgery to activate the wires and confirm that the electrodes are delivering current where it needs to go in order to improve symptoms. Recovery is quick and virtually painless.

Post surgery, Dr. Clar programs the stimulator in the chest, similar to a pacemaker, to send continuous signals to the electrodes in the brain.

“For the right patient, DBS is totally life-changing.”

Curious as to whether deep-brain stimulation is the right choice for you? Contact your doctor and ask for a referral to see a specialist. A specialist will be able to discuss your options with you.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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