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Home » Neurological Disorders » Breaking Down the Myths About Deep Brain Stimulation Treatments

Patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) may find relief from their tremors, rigidity, dyskinesia, and difficulty moving with a procedure known as deep brain stimulation (DBS).

The therapy by Medtronic, a medical technology company, uses a surgically implanted medical device to deliver precision-controlled electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain.

“It’s like a pacemaker for the brain,” says Dr. Francisco Ponce of Barrow Brain and Spine in Phoenix. “This brain pacemaker helps corrects abnormal brain rhythms.”

New lease on life

While DBS isn’t a cure for PD, research shows DBS therapy improves quality of life by 26 percent vs. a 1 percent decline with medication alone.

Brian Baehr, 59, was diagnosed with PD nearly 13 years ago. His body was getting more rigid and, despite taking medicine, his symptoms weren’t improving. A lifelong athlete, he was frustrated that he could no longer participate in sports he loved, including baseball, skiing, and biking. A few years ago, his doctor, Dr. Ponce, suggested he try DBS.

“I loved it. I had such a great result,” he says. “I’m back to doing a lot of physical things that I was losing my ability to do. It’s put a whole new lease on my life again.”

These days, Baehr is back to skiing and playing baseball and takes less medication than he was taking before his DBS procedure. He credits it with helping him have better movement throughout the day.

“DBS can alleviate some movement symptoms and medication may be reduced,” says Steven Goetz, engineering director at Medtronic Brain Modulation, noting it can help some patients improve their quality of life.

Read on to learn more about DBS and debunk some of the therapy’s myths.

Myth: DBS is a new or experimental technology.

Fact: “It’s underutilized,” says Dr. Ponce. “It’s not a treatment of last resort; it’s not experimental. It’s standard of care.” DBS therapy started in 1987 and Medtronic first received FDA approval for tremor treatment in 1997, followed by approval for PD and other indications. Worldwide, over 150,000 Medtronic DBS devices have been implanted. There are over 250 neurosurgeons performing DBS procedures in the United States.

Myth: DBS is only used for people with very advanced PD.

Fact: Previously, DBS was indicated only for advanced PD, but in 2015, Medtronic received FDA approval for treatment in patients earlier in their PD progression. DBS combined with medication may reduce some symptoms in individuals with levodopa-responsive PD for at least four years including motor complications from four months to three years.

The therapy continues to be an option for those with advanced, longer-standing motor symptoms. Medtronic also has indications for people with essential tremor, epilepsy, dystonia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth: DBS is a very invasive surgery.

Fact: DBS is brain surgery. The Medtronic DBS system uses an implantable neurostimulator to deliver electrical stimulation to the brain. The system consists of a neurostimulator, a lead, and an extension that connects the lead to the neurostimulator. Neurosurgeons have used electrical stimulation for decades as a way to locate specific sites within the brain. It was discovered that stimulating different areas of the brain could suppress some symptoms of PD. Typically, patients recover from surgery within a few days and stimulation may start within a few weeks after the surgical procedure. Baehr, who chose a non-rechargeable device, says his recovery was quick.

Looking to the future of neurological care, we continue to invest in the innovation of Medtronic DBS therapy to further increase the benefits to patients.

For patients diagnosed with PD, it’s important to begin a conversation with their clinician around when DBS may be a good option for them. 

For more information on Medtronic DBS Therapy, go to  

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