What is Deep Brain Stimulation?

The Neuromodulation and Functional Neurosurgery Program specialists collaborate in integrated teams to provide patients with a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach patient care.

Functional neurosurgery broadly deals with procedures that modify the functioning of the nervous system, from the brain itself down to peripheral nerves in the arm or leg. This can be done through a variety of techniques, such as removing an area of the brain causing seizures, infusing medication directly into the spinal fluid, or using an electrical stimulator on the brain or spinal cord to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain.

Deep brain stimulation delivers high frequency electrical stimulation to precise areas of the brain, thereby reorganizing the abnormal signals that result in the symptoms caused by the illness.

For patients who no longer respond to drug treatment for certain neurological disorders, deep brain stimulation (DBS) provides symptom relief through an implantable device that maintains appropriate electrical signaling in the brain. During deep brain stimulation, a wire with four small electrodes is placed in the critical part of your brain that helps control movement. The electrode is attached to a small battery pack—similar to a pacemaker—that’s implanted in the wall of your chest. The wires that connect the electrode to the battery are placed under the skin for convenience and cosmetic reasons.

Northwestern Medicine DBS technology offers hope and increased quality of life to patients with:

The DBS system consists of three components:

  • Electrode (lead): A thin, insulated wire that is inserted through a small opening in the skull and implanted in the brain. The tip of the electrode is positioned in the area of the brain that has been identified as causing the symptoms.
  • Extension: An insulated wire that is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder, connecting the lead to the neurostimulator
  • Battery-operated neurostimulator: Usually implanted under the skin near the collarbone, or occasionally lower in the chest or abdomen

Are you a candidate for deep brain stimulation?

DBS should be considered when symptoms of your disorder are progressing and becoming more difficult to manage. You should also consider DBS if:

  • Medications are not adequately controlling symptoms despite best efforts to optimize treatment.
  • Medications meant to control symptoms result in side effects such as dyskinesias (involuntary extra movements), psychiatric problems or other complications.
  • Motor fluctuations and unreliable responses to medications begin to interfere with quality of life.
  • You are experiencing treatment-resistant tremor.

People with severe dementia are not candidates since the operation can worsen this condition.

If DBS is determined to be appropriate for you, Northwestern Medicine offers teams1 of experienced neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurophysiologists, neuropsychologists and specialized nurses who combine efforts to achieve an optimal outcome for each patient. Talk to your neurologist and neurosurgeon about the benefits and risks of deep brain stimulation in your treatment plan.

Meet the Teams

The Northwestern Medicine Deep Brain Stimulation specialists at work in integrated teams to provide patients with a multidisciplinary approach to their neurologic care. Meet the Teams
Downtown Chicago
Western Suburbs
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