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Brain Stimulation Improves Parkinson's Movements

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Sept. 26, 2001 -- Parkinson's disease has thankfully been getting a lot of attention in the last several years, but doctors continue to struggle with how best to treat people with the most severe forms of this puzzling medical problem. But now a procedure called "deep-brain stimulation" is showing more promise for those who have failed other treatments.

Deep-brain stimulation involves surgery, where electrodes are implanted deep within specific areas of the brain and are connected to a generator that is placed under the skin and just under the collarbone.

Doctors know that stimulating areas of the brain known to be abnormal in Parkinson's disease can improve some of the tremors associated with this brain disorder, they but have been unable to figure out how to speed up slow movements or calm uncontrolled movements often seen in people with advanced Parkinson's.

And now it seems that doctors may have just been stimulating the wrong area of the brain. By moving the electrodes to an area of the brain called the "subthalamic nucleus," they saw significant improvement in uncontrolled movements as well as very slow movements often seen in people with advanced Parkinson's disease.

But the procedure does come with risks. Among the 143 people with Parkinson's disease who had the procedure, seven of them experienced bleeding in the brain, and two developed an infection that required the electrodes to be removed.

The researchers say that deep brain stimulation is still safer than with other surgeries done for Parkinson's disease and suggest that the improvement seen in their study is even greater than has been seen in the past with brain surgery or fetal-cell transplantation.

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