What Happens During Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Surgery?


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UW Health neurosurgeons in Madison, Wisconsin, perform deep brain stimulation (DBS) for selected patients with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, tremor and other movement disorders.
Overview of the DBS process View Dr. Wendell Lake discussing an overview of the DBS surgery process


In general, what happens during the deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery process?


Placement of the DBS implant is performed in stages:

  • First, electrode(s) are placed
  • Second, the generator is placed.

Electrode Placement


The electrode(s) will be placed in your brain. You and your physician will decide if a second electrode is needed. You will be awake for this procedure. After the surgery you will spend the first night in an intensive care unit (ICU). You will be on a general care unit for one or two more days before you go home.

  • You will be taken to the Operating Room (OR).
  • You will be mildly sedated.
  • A frame will be placed around your head after numbing medicine is injected into the skin. The reason for the frame is to keep your head from moving and insure proper electrode placement.
  • After the frame is placed, you will be taken for a CT scan.
  • You will be returned to the OR and placed in a reclining position.
  • You will have your hair clipped in the OR. Only the hair around the incision will be clipped to enhance access and create a sterile field for the operation.
  • Your surgeon will review the merged scans and complete final planning for placing the electrode.
  • Drapes will be placed around your head and you will be sedated for the initial incisions.
  • During the sound recording phase you will be asked to perform tasks involving motor movement. Sound recordings will be done as the electrode is placed to assure ideal placement.
  • After the surgery is completed, you will go to the recovery room and then spend the first night following the surgery in the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit.
  • Usually about one to two weeks following the electrode placement surgery, you will return for a surgery for placement of the generator(s) in your chest.

Generator Placement


The generator will be placed in your chest. You will be asleep for the procedure. You will go to the general care floor after the placement and may be able to go home the next day. The device will not be turned on until you return to the Neurology Movement Disorders Clinic for programming about two weeks after your surgery.

  • A nurse from the First Day Surgery Unit will call you the day before surgery between 10am and 2pm to tell you what time to arrive on the day of surgery.
  • Plan to shampoo and bathe with an antibacterial soap the night before and the morning of surgery to help lessen the risk of infection.
  • Do not eat or drink after midnight.
  • You should take your Parkinson’s or tremor medicine before surgery. Take all medicines with small sips of water only.
  • On the day of this surgery, all patients should report to the First Day Surgery (E5/3) two hours prior to their surgery time.

You will be asleep for the generator placement, which will take two to three hours. An incision will be made in your chest. The incision behind your ear will be reopened. The doctor will insert the generator into your chest, bring the wire behind your ear down your neck to your chest, and connect the two devices. Once this is done, all parts will be under the skin.