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What to Expect After Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment option that works well for some people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). This chronic disorder affects the nervous system and can greatly impact daily life. At times, doctors suggest DBS to help manage PD symptoms caused by the decline of neurons in the brain.1

DBS treatment involves several steps. A doctor places a special device in the person’s body during surgery. This device is designed to send electrical currents to certain parts of the brain. A doctor or DBS expert adjusts the device’s settings based on how the person responds to the impulses.1

What are the benefits of DBS?

The benefits of DBS vary from person to person. However, most people with PD find that DBS aids them in several ways.

DBS generally eases abnormal movements, muscle stiffness, and tremors. Many studies have found a drop in motor symptoms, especially tremors, after DBS. One study reported improvements in 72.5% of the people with tremors who took part in the research.1-4

DBS often results in a higher standard of living. A decrease in motor symptoms allows people to move better. This helps them to carry out routine tasks more easily. With fewer symptoms, they also have less need for drugs to treat those symptoms, and thus, fewer side effects.1,3,4

When will I see the results?

For some people, relief from motor symptoms comes right after DBS surgery. This occurs even before turning on the device. Doctors refer to this outcome as the “honeymoon” phase or the “microlesion” effect.1,2

Other people see results later. Their symptoms may improve after tweaks to their device’s settings. Benefits of DBS tend to peak within a few months.1,2

A 2006 study confirmed what several studies found about the benefits of DBS for PD and the timing of results. This study showed notable advances 6 months after surgery. This included advances that ranged from a 22% boost in quality of life to a 41% increase in motor function.5

How long do the benefits last?

Research shows that deep brain stimulation provides both short-lived and long-lasting benefits. The “honeymoon” phase lingers from a few days to a few months. Some benefits of DBS extend up to 10 years and beyond.1-4

The length of time that DBS benefits last varies from person to person. Research shows that triggering different areas of the brain can result in benefits that span varying lengths of time. Some benefits may decrease over the years, while others remain.1

What care is needed after?

On top of the wound care required with any surgery, DBS calls for special follow-up and ongoing care. Depression, falls, nausea, and problems with motor skills and swallowing can occur after DBS. In a follow-up appointment, doctors can address these issues and any other side effects of the device and/or the stimulation.1,2

Some follow-up care will last only a short time, depending on the issue. For instance, DBS can alter a person’s mood, personality, and speech. Counseling, drugs, and speech therapy may help with these issues. A doctor can help find the best course of action in each case.1,2

People treated with DBS will need some extra care for the rest of their lives. Each person’s device must be maintained and adjusted to meet their unique needs. Dosages of other drugs used to treat PD may also need to change over time.1,2,4

What are others saying?

Many people with PD say they have been happy to have DBS as part of their treatment plan. One study surveyed a group of people who lived for 10 years or more after DBS. More than 90% reported being pleased with the long-term results. Plus, 95% said they would suggest DBS to others.3

If you are thinking about pursuing DBS as a treatment for PD, talk to your doctor. They can assess your current health and discuss any potential benefits and risk factors of DBS with you. Their feedback can help you decide if DBS is right for you.

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