Skip to content

Parkinson's Disease Health Center

Brain 'Pacemaker' Treats Parkinson's

Study Shows Surgery Called Deep-Brain Stimulation Treats Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News

Aug. 30, 2006 -- New research shows that the surgical procedure known as deep-brain stimulation is a more effective treatment for many patients with Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease than drug therapy alone.

Patients under the age of 75 who had the surgery were better able to function physically and socially six months later than other patients of similar age -- and with similar symptoms -- who remained on the drug treatment.

The German study was one of the first to consider quality of life as a treatment end point. Patients treated with deep-brain stimulation plus Parkinson's medications had quality-of-life scores that were 25% higher six months later than patients treated with drugs alone, researcher Jens Volkmann, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.

'Unparalleled' Improvement

The study is published in the Aug. 31 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

"That may not sound like a lot, but if you look at the other studies that included this end point, there are very, very few treatments for Parkinson's disease that have been shown to have any impact on quality of life," he says. "A 25% improvement is unparalleled."

Although it is still a relatively new procedure for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, deep-brain stimulation is now performed at more than 200 treatment centers in the U.S.

Often described as a pacemaker for the brain, the procedure involves the surgical implantation of very thin electrodes which deliver electrical impulses to the parts of the brain that control movement. A pacemaker-like device (a small electrical device called a pulse generator) is implanted under the skin of the chest; it can be controlled by the patient using a remote control or magnet.

Who's a Good Surgery Candidate?

Deep-brain stimulation is most often used to relieve the tremors and alleviate other symptoms of Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease -- such as slowness of movement -- when they can no longer be adequately controlled with medications alone.

But not everyone is a candidate for the surgery, and its success depends on careful selection of patients, National Parkinson's Foundation medical director Michael Okun, MD, tells WebMD.

"Many patients who could benefit from this treatment are not getting it," he says. "And conversely, some patients who are not good candidates are having the surgery."

Today on WebMD

Parkinsons disease illustration
Causes, symptoms, and treatments.
hands on walker
How does the disease progress?
 
man with serious expression
8 common questions and answers.
intelligence quotient illustration
What are the advantages of DBS?
 
Parkinsons Disease Medications
Article
Questions Doctor Parkinsons
Article
 
Eating Right
Article
Parkinsons Exercise
Article
 
daughter consoling depressed mother
Article
senior man's hands
Article
 
Parkinsons Daily
Article
Acupunture
Article