Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition – an illness that affects nerve cells in the brain that control movement. Everyone with Parkinson’s has different symptoms, but the most common symptoms are tremor, muscle rigidity and slowness of movement. All of these are related to movement and are called motor symptoms.
DBS is a treatment option for people with Parkinson's whose motor (movement) symptoms no longer respond adequately to medication. DBS is also used for other movement disorders such as dystonia and essential tremor.
DBS therapy uses a small, pacemaker-like device to send electronic signals to a precise area in the brain that controls movement (either the subthalamic nucleus (STN) or the internal globus pallidus) via very thin wires. Stimulation of these areas appears to block the brain messages that cause disabling motor symptoms and so can provide greater symptom control. Each person has a programmer and once this has been programmed by a specialist, the programmer can be adjusted to give a level of stimulation that provides the best possible symptom control. For the right candidate, this can provide greater control over body movement and so improve quality of life but DBS is not suitable and will not work for everyone.
In the right candidate DBS can provide longer periods of relief from motor symptoms such as tremor, stiffness and slow movement. It can also reduce the frequency and duration of abnormal, involuntary movements (dyskinesia) which often occur as a side effect of Parkinson's medications. Such benefits can improve your quality of life.
You may also be able to reduce the amount of medication you take if DBS provides good symptom control. This can be particularly helpful during pregnancy.
DBS is reversible as the neurostimulator can be switched off at any time and removed if necessary, although this will require further surgery.