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Deep Brain Stimulation: Procedure & Side Effects

Instructor: Emily Cummins
This lesson covers the medical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, which places electrodes in the brain to help regulate abnormal impulses. We'll talk about why someone might undergo this procedure, and some of the possible side effects.

Deep Brain Stimulation

Imagine you're laying on a table and a doctor is implanting electrodes deep into your brain in order to transmit electrical impulses. These electrodes are connected to a small device in your chest. Are we talking about the opening scene of a Zombie horror movie? Not quite! This is a medical technique known as deep brain stimulation, or DBS.

Deep brain stimulation is used to regulate abnormal electrical impulses in the brain, which can be associated with neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. The tremors associated with Parkinson's might be caused by parts of the brain malfunctioning. DBS can sometimes help make these parts work better and reduce tremors.

DBS is also sometimes used to treat major depressive disorders or chronic pain, in cases where more conventional treatments have not worked.

How exactly do these electrodes hook up to and stimulate your brain? It sounds like a scary procedure, so let's talk about the equipment that is used and how it all works together.

Procedure

Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that is performed by a neurosurgeon. Currently, DBS is reserved for the treatment of symptoms that have not been reduced via any other method. You can think of it as a last resort option.

Diagram of Deep Brain Stimulation Equipment
deep brain stimulation

There are three major parts of the DBS machinery. First, there is what is known as the lead, or electrode we mentioned earlier. An electrode is simply an electrical conductor that makes contact with something nonmetal (in this case, your brain!). The lead is a thin wire that is placed in the brain through a hole in the skull, drilled very carefully by a skilled brain surgeon! The tip of the electrode is placed on a specific part of the brain, depending on what this procedure is meant to treat.

Then, there is the extension. This is another wire that goes under the skin, down the neck and shoulders, connecting the lead to the third component, the implanted pulse generator (IPG). Think of the IPG as the battery pack, generating electrical impulses. It is implanted under the skin, usually near the collar bone.

The IPG sends signals up the extension wire to the lead, where the impulses stimulate the brain. A neurosurgeon will determine how strong of an impulse a patient needs, and which areas of the brain needs them.

This system works by regulating electrical signals in your brain's neural circuits. Think of these as bundles of nerve cells that regulate activity in your brain via electrical impulses. Ever taken apart a lamp and looked at the interconnected wires that transfer electricity? Your brain is a little bit like that.

Side Effects

You might be wondering if there are consequences to planting electrodes deep inside your brain. Some patients suffer from neuropsychiatric side effects. These are mental side effects; hallucinations are one example. Also, it's possible that people may engage in unusual, risky activities like compulsive gambling or careless sexual behavior.

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