Learn more about deep brain stimulation

Understanding Deep Brain Stimulation at UPMC

It may seem like technology of the future, but deep brain stimulation is a treatment that’s now available to patients.

This surgical procedure has been used successfully to treat involuntary movements that can occur in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor (very rapid, involuntary shaking), and dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions).

Deep brain stimulation also is used to treat severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when other therapies have failed. In epilepsy patients, responsive neurostimulation, a form of deep brain stimulation, is used.

To learn more or to schedule up an appointment, visit UPMC Neurosurgery.

An Effective Approach: About Deep Brain Stimulation

In deep brain stimulation, a surgeon implants a thin wire called an electrode within the brain circuit that produces abnormal movement. The wire connects to a small device called a pulse generator that the surgeon implants under the skin below the collarbone.

Once the generator is activated, it sends mild electrical pulses through the wire and into the patient’s brain. These pulses modify the brain’s electrical signals, which can help control involuntary abnormal movements.

Using a remote control, the patient can adjust the amount of stimulation needed to relieve symptoms without the risk of side effects. Research suggests that people who receive deep brain stimulation have a better quality of life, greater independence, and up to a 60 percent reduction in symptoms. A recent study of patients with Parkinson’s disease demonstrated that those who had deep brain stimulation also lived longer.

At UPMC, deep brain stimulation is performed in two ways: lightly sedated but awake, or completely asleep.

In “awake” deep brain stimulation, the patient is sedated at the beginning and end of the procedure but remains alert during the brain recording and stimulation testing portion. The surgeons plan the procedure using images from an MRI scan that is done prior to the surgery.

In “asleep” deep brain stimulation, the patient is under general anesthesia. Surgeons use a surgical imaging system that gives them real-time images of the brain to guide the procedure.

UPMC is one of only a few health care systems in the United States with extensive expertise in this type of deep brain stimulation.

Is Deep Brain Stimulation Right for You?

If you have Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, dystonia, or other movement-related symptoms that medicine can’t control, deep brain stimulation might help you.

Deep brain stimulation also is an effective treatment for chronic or severe OCD that hasn’t responded to medicine and therapy. It appears to help alleviate symptoms by sending impulses to the part of the brain responsible for recurring, unwanted thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions), or both. Your doctor can tell you if deep brain stimulation is an appropriate treatment option.