How does the deep brain stimulation implant work?

The deep brain stimulation device has an electrode, which is shaped like a tip. It is implanted in the region of the brain involved with the disease symptoms.

Electrical pulses are transmitted through four metal pads on the surface of the electrode. Because they are tiny, the electrical pulses stimulate only brain tissue near the electrode. Thus, the electrical stimulation can specifically target only the brain region near where the electrode is planted.

The simulator, which is also called the pulse generator is a small device that is shaped like a box and generates the electrical signals sent to the electrode.

Usually implanted in a space under the skin, near the patient's chest, the pulse generator includes a battery with a lifespan that can range from two to seven years.

Quick on-off electrical pulses are delivered at very high frequencies, typically exceeding 100 times per second.

The high frequencies are necessary to help reduce unwanted symptoms.

The extension, the final component of an implanted DBS device, is an insulated cable. It takes the electrical signals from the pulse generator and delivers them to the electrode implanted in the brain.

Because having any part of the DBS device going through the skin could pose a risk for infection, the surgeon generally tunnels a small path under the skin, going from the pulse generator to the electrode.

Normally, patients receive a handheld device to control the dosages of electrical stimulation they receive. A doctor sets limits for range of stimulation dosages, but the patient adjusts the device, within certain limits, to his or her individual needs.

Nader Pouratian, MD

A deep brain stimulation implant is most simply thought of as a pacemaker for the brain. When a patient has a neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease, the brain develops abnormal patterns of electrical activity. Just like a cardiac pacemaker is able to reset the abnormal rhythm and activity of the heart, a deep brain stimulator is able to interfere with abnormal brain activity, making it closer to normal. Despite its great success, the precise mechanism of how deep brain stimulation works is still not completely known and much research is being done to understand it better.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.