Deep Brain Stimulation [2024]: How DBS Works|Side Effects|Recovery|Results

May 8, 202415 min
deep brain stimulation - doctor treating the patient related to brain

What is Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)?

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure involving implanting electrodes into specific brain regions to modulate abnormal neural activity.

It is often recommended when other treatment options, such as medications, fail to control symptoms adequately or their side effects become problematic. This is because DBS involves certain risks, so doctors typically suggest it after other methods have been exhausted.

DBS delivers controlled electrical impulses to targeted brain areas, altering abnormal brain activity and balancing neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers.

Over time, DBS can prompt the brain to adapt and rewire, leading to lasting symptom relief and improved everyday functioning. This may include better movement control, reduced tremors, enhanced mood stability, and increased quality of life.

Additionally, DBS is also considered for specific psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and treatment-resistant depression, when other treatments have proven ineffective.

However, the use of DBS for psychiatric conditions is still evolving, and it is typically reserved for individuals who have not responded to other therapies.

Studies show that many patients benefit from DBS for years after the initial treatment, highlighting its potential for long-term neurological recovery and enhanced quality of life.

By offering a targeted approach to symptom management, DBS provides hope for individuals living with movement disorders and certain psychiatric conditions when other treatment options have been unsuccessful.

8 Benefits of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) & Why We Need It in 2024

  1. Symptom Management: DBS effectively controls motor symptoms associated with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and dystonia, improving overall quality of life.
  2. Improved Functionality: By reducing symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and dyskinesias, DBS enhances patients' ability to perform daily activities and participate in social and recreational pursuits.
  3. Medication Reduction: DBS may enable a decrease in medication dosages, which can help reduce side effects and make treatment more accessible to tolerate. It is essential to consult with your doctor for personalized advice before making any changes to your medication regimen.
  4. Long-term Efficacy: Studies have shown that DBS can provide sustained symptom relief and functional improvement over time, even years after the initial implantation.
  5. Treatment for Untreatable Cases: DBS offers hope for individuals with neurological conditions who have not found relief through conventional therapies, providing an alternative therapeutic option.
  6. Individualized Therapy: DBS lets doctors target specific areas in the brain and adjust the stimulation settings to fit each patient's needs, making treatment more effective.
  7. Enhanced Quality of Life: DBS can significantly improve patients' overall quality of life by easing troublesome symptoms, lessening the need for medications, and helping them regain their ability to do daily tasks independently.
  8. Potential for Neuroplasticity: DBS may encourage the brain to change its structure and function (neuroplasticity), leading to adaptive rewiring. This helps support long-term recovery and improvement in neurological function.

Who is a Good Candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)?

Good Candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) - a person is checking the criteria

Determining eligibility for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) involves a complete evaluation by a team of healthcare professionals specializing in neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry. While specific criteria may vary depending on the condition being treated, some general factors help identify suitable candidates for DBS:

  1. Disease Severity: Candidates typically have moderate to severe symptoms of neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, or dystonia that significantly impact their quality of life and have not seen improvement from medication therapy.
  2. Medication Responsiveness: Candidates may have experienced a positive response to medication initially, but their symptoms have become challenging to manage over time due to medication fluctuations, side effects, or inadequate symptom control.
  3. Functional Impairment: Candidates may experience functional limitations in activities of daily living, work, or social interactions due to their neurological symptoms despite optimum medical management.
  4. Psychological stability: Candidates should demonstrate psychological stability and the ability to adhere to postoperative care requirements, including medication management, programming adjustments, and follow-up appointments.
  5. Age Limits: There is no strict age limit for DBS candidacy. However, candidates should be in good health and medically stable to undergo surgery. DBS has been successfully performed in patients ranging from young to older adults.
  6. Sex: DBS candidacy is not determined by sex. Both men and women can be considered for DBS based on their specific neurological condition, symptom severity, and other relevant factors.

How Does Deep Brain Stimulation Work?

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) delivers controlled electrical impulses to specific areas of the brain that regulate movement, mood, and other neurological functions.

This is achieved by implanting electrodes connected to a neurostimulator device typically placed under the skin near the collarbone. The neurostimulator generates electrical pulses that modulate abnormal neural activity, thereby alleviating symptoms associated with conditions like Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, dystonia, and psychological disorders like OCD.

While the precise mechanism of action is not fully understood, DBS is thought to disrupt abnormal brain circuits and affect brain chemicals, which helps improve symptoms.

How Painful is Deep Brain Stimulation?

The deep brain stimulation procedure itself is performed under general anesthesia, so patients typically do not experience pain during the surgery. However, some discomfort or soreness at the surgical site may occur afterward, which can be managed with pain medications the healthcare team prescribes.

Additionally, patients may experience temporary discomfort or mild pain during recovery as the body adjusts to the presence of the implanted electrodes and neurostimulator. Overall, the pain associated with deep brain stimulation is generally manageable and temporary.

How Long Does it Take for Deep Brain Stimulation to Work?

The timeframe for experiencing the full benefits of deep brain stimulation can vary among individuals and depends on factors such as the underlying condition being treated and the specific brain area being selected for stimulation.

In some cases, patients may notice improvements in symptoms within days to weeks after the initial programming of the neurostimulator. The benefits of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) may not show up right away. It can take a few months because the settings for the stimulation need to be adjusted during follow-up appointments to get the best results.

Patients should be prepared for a gradual and progressive improvement in symptoms over time rather than expecting immediate results. Close collaboration with the healthcare team is crucial for monitoring progress and making necessary adjustments to maximize the effectiveness of DBS therapy.

Preparing for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Surgery

Before undergoing DBS surgery, patients undergo several preparatory steps to ensure their safety and optimize treatment outcomes.

Critical aspects of preparation include these three things:

  1. Pre-Surgery Evaluations: Patients undergo thorough evaluations by a multidisciplinary team, which may include neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, and other specialists. The evaluations check the patient's health history, brain symptoms, thinking abilities, and overall health to see if they are suitable for DBS and to find any risks or reasons not to do it.
  2. Neuroimaging: Doctors use special brain scans like MRI or CT scans to see inside the brain and find the right spots for placing the electrodes during DBS surgery.
  3. Medication Management: Before surgery, doctors may change the patient's medications or have them stop taking certain medications temporarily. This is done to lower the chance of any problems the medications could cause during the surgery.

During Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Surgery

DBS surgery is a complex procedure involving several vital steps to implant electrodes into specific brain areas. Here's what patients can expect during DBS surgery:

  1. Preparation: Before the surgery begins, patients are positioned comfortably on the operating table, and their heads may be secured in a frame to prevent movement during the procedure. The surgical team ensures that the patient is positioned correctly and sterile drapes are placed around the surgical site.
  2. Anaesthesia and Sedation: General anaesthesia is typically administered to ensure that patients remain unconscious and pain-free throughout the procedure. Additionally, patients may receive sedative medications to help them relax before the surgery begins.
  3. Stereotactic Frame Placement: A stereotactic frame is a special device attached to the patient's head during surgery. It helps provide a stable and accurate reference point for the surgical team to target specific brain areas precisely. This frame ensures the surgery is done with high precision and accuracy, allowing the surgeons to navigate to the intended brain areas with great care.
  4. Electrode Implantation: Using specialized instruments and guidance from the neuroimaging data, the neurosurgeon makes small incisions in the scalp and creates a small opening in the skull to access the brain. The electrodes are then carefully inserted into the predetermined target areas within the brain tissue.
  5. Neurophysiological Monitoring: Neurophysiological monitoring techniques, such as electroencephalography (EEG), are used to monitor the brain's electrical signals or responses to stimulation to ensure that the surgery does not cause any harm to important brain functions. This helps maintain the safety and effectiveness of the surgery.
  6. Closure: Once the electrodes are securely implanted, the incisions in the scalp and skull are closed using sutures or staples. A protective dressing may be applied to the surgical site to promote healing and reduce the risk of infection.

Recovery from Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Surgery

After DBS surgery, patients undergo a period of recovery and rehabilitation to ensure all-around healing and adjustment to the implanted devices. The recovery process typically involves the following aspects:

Female psychologist consulting patient at the desk in hospital.

In-Hospital Care:

  • Postoperative Monitoring: Patients are closely monitored in the hospital immediately following DBS surgery to monitor for any signs of complications, such as bleeding, infection, or neurological deficits.
  • Pain Management: Pain medication may be administered as needed to help manage any discomfort or soreness at the surgical site.
  • Neurological Assessment: During neurological assessments, the healthcare team checks how well the patient's brain and body work, including thinking skills and movement, and addresses any issues they find.
  • Programming Initiation: In some cases, initial programming of the neurostimulator may occur during the hospital stay to ensure that the stimulation settings are appropriately adjusted for symptom control.

In-Home Care:

  • Wound Care: Patients receive instructions on how to care for the surgical incisions at home, including keeping the incision sites clean and dry, monitoring for signs of infection, and following any specific wound care protocols provided by the healthcare team.
  • Activity Restrictions: Patients may be advised to avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting for some time following surgery to allow for proper healing of the surgical incisions and adjustment to the implanted devices.
  • Medication Management: Patients may need to continue taking medications to manage their underlying neurological condition, and the healthcare team will communicate any changes to medication regimens.

Follow-Up Appointments:

  • Programming Adjustments: Patients typically undergo multiple follow-up appointments with their healthcare provider in the weeks and months following DBS surgery to fine-tune the stimulation settings of the neurostimulator. These programming adjustments are essential for optimizing symptom control and minimizing side effects.
  • Neurological Assessments: Regular neurological assessments monitor the patient's progress, evaluate treatment outcomes, and address emerging issues or concerns.
  • Education and Support: Patients and their caregivers receive ongoing education and support from the healthcare team to ensure that they have the information and resources needed to manage their condition effectively and navigate the challenges of living with DBS, such as adjusting to new routines, managing device settings, and coping with potential side effects or limitations in daily activities.

How long does it take to recover from Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery?

Recovery time from Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery varies based on factors like overall health and surgery complexity. Immediate recovery lasts a few days to a week, with possible discomfort and fatigue. Patients may stay in the hospital for monitoring and pain management. After discharge, they may feel mild discomfort and fatigue for several weeks. Following healthcare instructions is vital for healing and symptom improvement. Full benefits of DBS may take weeks to months.

Side Effects, Risks, and Complications of DBS

  • Dysarthria (speech difficulties)
  • Paresthesia (tingling or prickling sensation)
  • Muscle twitching or spasms
  • Balance problems or gait disturbances
  • Visual disturbances can include blurred vision, double vision, seeing flashes of light, or difficulty focusing.
  • Cognitive changes, such as confusion or memory problems

Programming Adjustments:

  • Temporary worsening of symptoms during programming sessions
  • Need for multiple programming sessions to optimize settings
  • Battery depletion requiring replacement
  • Lead migration necessitates repositioning surgery: Lead migration occurs when the electrodes implanted in the brain move from their original spot. This can happen naturally or due to physical activity. Repositioning surgery is needed to fix this so the treatment keeps working well.
  • Rare instances of device malfunction requiring repair or replacement

Psychological Effects:

  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Adjustment difficulties related to living with a neurostimulator

Adverse Reactions to Medications:

  • Changes in medication requirements to prevent overmedication and minimize side effects

In DBS, some effects, like temporary symptom worsening during programming or medication changes, are solvable. Stimulation side effects are generally temporary, but there are no guarantees.

However, issues like lead migration or device malfunction may have lasting consequences. Prompt communication with healthcare providers is crucial for effective management.

Success Rate of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has effectively managed symptoms of various neurological and psychiatric conditions. Success rates of treatments like DBS are measured by looking at both results from carefully controlled studies (clinical trials) and how well the treatment works in real-life situations. This gives a fuller picture of how effective the treatment is overall. Real-world studies help us understand how well DBS works in everyday medical settings, adding to what we learn from clinical trials.

1. Clinical Trial Results:

  • Clinical trials have shown promising results for DBS in treating Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and dystonia. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that DBS significantly improved motor function and quality of life in patients with Parkinson's disease compared to standard medical therapy alone.
  • Similarly, trials evaluating DBS for essential tremor have reported significant reductions in tremor severity and improvement in functional outcomes.
  • In dystonia, DBS has been shown to alleviate symptoms and improve motor function in select cases where medications are ineffective.
  • Clinical trials investigating DBS for psychiatric disorders such as treatment-resistant depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have shown mixed results. While some studies have reported significant improvements in mood and symptom severity, others have shown more modest outcomes. Success rates vary widely depending on patient selection criteria, target brain regions, and study design.

2. Real-World Outcomes:

  • A look back at DBS outcomes for Parkinson's disease patients found continued improvement in symptoms and quality of life over five years.
  • Another real-world study investigating DBS for essential tremors found that the majority of patients experienced significant tremor reduction and functional improvement, with high patient satisfaction rates.
  • Additionally, long-term follow-up studies have demonstrated the durability of DBS benefits, with many patients experiencing sustained symptom relief and improved quality of life years after the initial implantation.
  • Real-world outcomes for DBS in psychiatric disorders vary widely and are less well-established compared to movement disorders. While some patients experience significant improvements in mood and symptom severity, others may have more modest responses. Success rates depend on factors such as patient selection, target brain regions, and post-operative management.

What is the lifespan of someone with DBS?

The lifespan of someone with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) can vary depending on various factors, including their age, overall health, underlying medical conditions, and the specific neurological or psychiatric condition being treated with DBS.

DBS itself does not significantly impact lifespan, as it is primarily aimed at improving symptoms and quality of life rather than directly addressing life expectancy. It's essential for individuals with DBS to maintain open communication with their healthcare providers, adhere to treatment plans, and prioritise overall health and well-being to optimise their quality of life and potentially extend their lifespan.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a gentle way to stimulate the brain without surgery, providing another option instead of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). With tDCS, a weak electrical current (usually 1 to 2 milliamps) changes how nerve cells work in certain brain parts.

This can improve brain function and behavior. tDCS is helpful for different reasons: it can boost thinking skills like memory and attention, it is being looked at as a treatment for problems like depression, chronic pain, and addiction, and it is used in research to understand how the brain works and why diseases happen.

Compared to DBS, tDCS has some advantages: it is accessible to the body, you can use small devices at home, and it is inexpensive. However, sometimes, during tDCS, you might feel a small amount of tingling or itching, or you could get a headache.

Moreover, if it is not done correctly, it could have harmful effects, especially if the current is too strong or you use it for too long. Overall, tDCS is a promising option for helping with brain problems without needing surgery.

Cost of DBS Surgery

In the United States, DBS surgery can cost approximately 37,00,000 to 74,00,000 INR. In India, the cost is lower, around 11,00,000 to 22,00,000 INR. This makes it a popular option for medical tourism. It's essential to consider factors like hospital reputation and quality of care when choosing where to have the surgery.


Can DBS be Removed?

Yes, DBS can be removed if needed. This procedure is called explantation. It may happen if the device does not work well anymore or if there are problems.

Can DBS Change Your Personality?

DBS might affect mood and behavior in some people, but significant personality changes are rare. Sometimes mood can improve, but other times there may be mood swings or impulsivity. It is important to tell your doctor about any significant changes.

Can DBS Cause Dementia, Seizures, Memory Loss, Depression, Weight Loss, or Death?

DBS can have side effects, but they are not common. These can include changes in memory or mood and sometimes physical effects like weight loss. Seizures or infections are very rare. Death from DBS is infrequent, but like any surgery, there are risks.


In conclusion, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) offers a valuable treatment option for various brain-related conditions, often used when medications prove ineffective in managing symptoms like tremors and movement problems in conditions such as Parkinson's disease and essential tremor. They can also work on improving the symptoms of psychiatric disorders. By sending controlled electrical signals to specific brain parts, DBS can improve motor function and overall quality of life for many patients.

However, it is important to remember that DBS also comes with risks. These include possible side effects and complications, highlighting the need for careful patient selection and close monitoring.

Looking to the future, DBS research and treatment hold promise. Advances in technology aim to make DBS even more effective and safer. Researchers are also exploring new uses for DBS and how it can work alongside other treatments like gene therapy or medication. Long-term studies will continue to improve our understanding of DBS and how to make it even better for patients in the future.


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Clinical Psychologist