Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DBS: What the Heck Is It?

DBS is not the abbreviation for Ditzy Blonde Singer. It stands for Deep Brain Stimulation and is a surgical option for relief of Parkinson's Disease (PD) motor symptoms. It won't cure the disease or stop the progression, but if done successfully, it can significantly lower the amount of prescription drugs taken and thereby get rid of aggravating side effects. DBS is good for relieving tremors, rigidity and slowness of movement (Bradykinesia). IF you get relief from any of the non-motor symptoms of PD, then it is a bonus.

Our brain is like a high tech computer and movement depends on the smooth flow of very complex signals along multiple paths. These paths are arranged in connecting loops, so the signals are always making round trips, reporting activity back to the brain. In people with Parkinson's, these paths have little bumps or cracks in them, so the signals don't flow smoothly and erratic movements such as tremor, rigidity and slowness happen.

Bumpy Parkie path

A doctor discovered that external electrical stimulation to a certain area of the brain stopped tremors and, in effect, neutralized the erratic signals caused by PD. This finding led to the current DBS procedure. 

Since each side of our body is controlled by the opposite side of our brain, DBS can be done on one side or both, depending on how PD affects you.

The procedure requires an electrode being surgically placed in the exact right spot in your brain. You are awake during this surgery (which would be unnerving to most, but not for me, I want to be wide awake), and completely off PD medications, so they can see if your hands stop shaking or if you can move on command. They also watch for unwanted things such as double vision or slurred speech. 

Then, in a separate procedure, about a week later, the generator (a battery powered device that sends the electrical signals) is placed in your chest or abdomen and connecting wires are run under your skin to the electrode in your brain. Medtronic manufactured my DBS device and I am very familiar with their Cardiac Pacemakers (a similar type product). When I worked in a Cardiac Cath Lab, I used to observe the placement of cardiac generators on a regular basis.

Once you have healed, the device is programmed. Programming may need multiple adjustments to get it optimized for you. 

It sounds scary, and it is, but when you are experiencing bad side effects or taking medications every few hours without much relief, it's worth considering.

My Favorite Martian
The electrodes do NOT protrude from your scalp, so you will not look like a Martian. It won't short out when you get wet and you cannot recharge your cell phone by placing it over the generator. (Yes, I have been asked these questions)


  1. OK I don't even know you and I adore you! I love your sense of humor and your straight forward post. Can we be friends cuz my other friends think I'm a little shaky!??

  2. OMG Bev Mittan Ribaudo you are hysterical thanks for the laughs and all the information really enjoyed your blog. Elaine

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