What you can expect

During the surgery

In general, here's how surgery for deep brain stimulation works.

  • Brain surgery. For the brain surgery portion, your care team fits you with a special head frame to keep your head still during the procedure (stereotactic head frame). Then, they use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map your brain and identify the area in your brain where they'll place the electrodes.

    You'll be given a local anesthetic to numb your scalp before surgery, but you won't need an anesthetic in your brain itself because the brain has no pain receptors.

    Your surgeon implants a thin wire lead with a number of contacts (electrodes) at the tips into a specific area of your brain. Or, one lead is implanted into each side of the brain (for a total of two leads). A wire runs under your skin to a pulse generator (neurostimulator) implanted near your collarbone.

    In most cases, you'll remain awake and alert during the procedure so that your neurologist can talk to you to make sure the right areas of your brain are being stimulated. Your responses help your health care team place the lead in the correct place while minimizing side effects.

    During surgery, both the neurologist and surgeon carefully monitor your brain to help ensure correct electrode placement.

  • Chest wall surgery. During the second portion of the surgery, which may occur on the same day or at a later time, the surgeon implants the part of the device that contains the batteries (pulse generator) under the skin in your chest, near your collarbone.

    General anesthesia is used during this procedure. Wires from the brain electrodes are placed under your skin and guided down to the battery-operated pulse generator.

    The generator is programmed to send continuous electrical pulses to your brain. You control the generator, and you can turn it on or off using a special remote control.

After the procedure

A few weeks after surgery, the pulse generator in your chest is activated in your doctor's office. The doctor can easily program your pulse generator from outside your body using a special remote control. The amount of stimulation is customized to your condition.

Stimulation may be constant, 24 hours a day, or your doctor may advise you to turn your pulse generator off at night and back on in the morning, depending on your condition. You can turn stimulation on and off with a special remote control that you'll take home with you. In some cases, your doctor may program the pulse generator to let you make minor adjustments at home.

The battery life of your generator varies with usage and settings. When the battery needs to be replaced, your surgeon will replace the generator during an outpatient procedure.

Nov. 11, 2015
  1. Miocinovic S, et al. History, applications, and mechanisms of deep brain stimulation. JAMA Neurology. 2013;70:163.
  2. Karas PJ, et al. Deep brain stimulation: A mechanistic and clinical update. Neurosurgical Focus. 2013;35:1.
  3. Brunicardi FC, et al., eds. Neurosurgery. In: Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. 9th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2010. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Aug. 31, 2015.
  4. Cleary DR, et al. Deep brain stimulation for psychiatric disorders: Where are we now. Neurosurgical Focus. 2015;38:1.
  5. Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/deep_brain_stimulation/deep_brain_stimulation.htm. Accessed Sept. 1, 2015.
  6. Fenoy AJ, et al. Risks of common complications in deep brain stimulation surgery: Management and avoidance. Journal of Neurosurgery. 2014;120:132.
  7. Tarsy D. Surgical treatment of Parkinson disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 28, 2015.
  8. Venkatraghavan L. Anesthesia for patients having deep brain stimulator implantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 28, 2015.
  9. Timmermann L, et al. Multiple-source current steering in subthalamic nucleus deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease (the VANTAGE study): A non-randomised, prospective, multicentre, open-label study. The Lancet Neurology. 2015;14:693.
  10. Krack P, et al. Deep brain stimulation: From neurology to psychiatry? Trends in Neurosciences. 2010;33:474.
  11. Riggs EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 6, 2015.