On paper, the DBS procedure doesn’t sound too complicated: doctors implant a “brain pacemaker” that sends signals to very specific parts of the brain. DBS patients with various conditions – including Parkinson’s, severe depression, chronic pain, essential tremor, and dystonia -- have reported significant post-operative improvements. The procedure has also been used to treat people suffering from Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and phantom limb pain.
So far, DBS has helped Parkinsonians whose meds either don’t really work or create adverse affects. The brain pacemakers don’t cure the disease, but they can help people manage PD’s symptoms -- such as tremor, rigidity, difficulty starting and continuing movement (bradykinesia), and postural instability.
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DBS results have been so compelling that the Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure for treatment of essential tremor in 1997, Parkinson’s (2002), and dystonia (2003).
Even so, fooling around with delicate brain tissue carries some risk. While most people experience improved quality of life following DBS, there are reports of side effects and complications, including apathy, hallucinations, compulsive gambling, hypersexuality, cognitive dysfunction, and depression.
Thinking that maybe DBS is for you? Here’s what the procedure looks like (not for the faint of heart):