UC Davis Deep Brain Stimulation Program treats Parkinson's disease and essential tremor

The Departments of Neurology and Neurological Surgery collaborate on the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) program, which is designed to help our patients maintain their quality of life and avoid debilitating symptoms through the use of a surgically implanted, adjustable brain pacemaker.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) addresses certain neurological symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, Essential Tremor, Dystonia and Epilepsy.

A neurostimulator – a battery-operated device similar to a heart pacemaker – delivers constant electrical stimulation to specific targets in the brain. Impulses from the device block electrical signals that may be the cause of abnormal movements, giving patients the benefit of treatment without the fluctuating symptoms and adverse side effects of medication.

Depending on their symptoms, patients may have the stimulator implanted on one or both sides of the brain to improve quality of life. It is important to note that DBS suppresses symptoms; it is not a cure but it can dramatically improve quality of life.

DBS is currently FDA-approved to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease, Essential Tremor and Epilepsy. Dystonia and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are also approved under an FDA Humanitarian Device Exemption. Studies on the effectiveness of DBS in minimizing symptoms of other neurological and psychiatric disorders are underway.

DBS is not suitable for patients with dementia or unresolved psychotic symptoms, as it may produce a worsening of cognitive symptoms. Patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure, bleeding tendencies, severe brain atrophy, or MRI evidence of large vessel ischemia are not candidates for DBS, as these conditions may increase the risk of stroke or other cerebrovascular accident.

Surgery for DBS uses the latest minimally invasive techniques, which can reduce the risk of complications, facilitate faster recovery times, and result in less discomfort compared to traditional open surgery.

The three-part DBS system includes:

  • One or two leads (electrodes), implanted in the brain
  • One or two neurostimulators, implanted beneath the collarbone
  • Connectors, or extensions, threaded under the skin to connect the leads to the neurostimulators.

Patients may choose to be asleep under general anaesthesia during placement of the leads, although the best possible results are achieved with patients who are awake and cooperative during the procedure. Our team of anaesthesiologist and nurses provides support throughout to make the experience as comfortable as possible. Battery implantation is done as an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia.

Although patient pre-screening helps minimize risks, it is important to note that there are some risks and side effects associated with DBS. These include:

  • Surgical risks, such as pain, bleeding, or infection
  • Neurobehavioral side effects, such as depression, anxiety, and confusion
  • Device-related complications.

Many stimulation-related side effects can be successfully managed by adjusting the stimulation settings.

Nationally ranked among the best hospitals for Neurology and Neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report in 2011, 2014-2020, and 2021. UC Davis offers patients the latest treatments for neurological disorders.

The Departments of Neurology and Neurological Surgery at UC Davis Health System are home to internationally recognized experts in neurological disorders, including a highly experienced multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses and researchers who utilize state-of-the-art technologies combined with compassionate care to provide the most current and effective treatments for patients.


To refer a patient for consultation, please contact our physician referral center at 800-4-UCDAVIS or complete an online referral at ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/referrals.


For more information, please have your neurologist or primary care provider submit a referral through the number or website above, or you may contact our DBS Program Coordinator, Laura Sperry, ANP-C, at 916-734-3588.

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