Surgical procedures are recommended for specific patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease who no longer respond to drug treatments. Surgical treatment cannot cure Parkinson's disease, but it may help control symptoms such as motor fluctuations and dyskinesia. Pallidotomy and thalamotomy are older procedures that destroy tissue in certain parts of the brain. Deep brain stimulation, the current standard surgical practice for Parkinson’s disease, has largely replaced the older operations.
Deep Brain Stimulation
In deep brain stimulation (DBS), also called neurostimulation, an electric pulse generator controls symptoms. The generator is similar to a heart pacemaker. It sends electrical pulses to specific regions of the brain. Candidates for surgery are generally patients who have responded well to levodopa drug treatment. Patients who have had PD for fewer than 16 years may experience greater benefit from DBS than patients who have had the disease longer.
Evidence indicates that DBS improves motor function and reduces dyskinesia best when the procedure targets the subthalamic nucleus (STN) of the brain. Many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of STN stimulation. Procedures that target the globus pallidus interna or ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus can also sometimes treat rigidity and tremors. However, there is not yet enough evidence to support stimulation of these parts of the brain.
The procedure is performed as follows:
- The surgeon implants a tiny pulse generator near the collarbone, which is connected to four electrodes that have been implanted in the target area in the brain.
- The generator delivers programmed pulses to this area, which the patient can turn on and off using a magnet held over the skin.
- When on, the pulses suppress symptoms. Complications occur in 2 - 4% of operations. The most serious ones are bleeding in the brain and infection. Depression is common.
Review Date: 06/18/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.