Downloadable leaflet

Link to information leaflet for patients with tremor or dystoniaInformation leaflet for patients with Tremor and Dystonia at the National Scottish Service in Glasgow

If you have any questions or wish further information please contact the DBS administrator on:-

Phone number for the DBS administrator Telephone: 0141 232 7512

Email address for the DBS administrator Email: margaret.reynolds@ggc.scot.nhs.uk

Introduction to Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for Tremor or Dystonia

Introduction to Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for Tremor or Dystonia

You have been referred or are considering Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) as a treatment for Tremor or Dystonia. This information leaflet has been written to give you further information on this. You can also get further information from the team.

In the following booklet we use the term “tremor” to include conditions such as Essential Tremor and Dystonic Tremor although we may also consider people with other types of tremor for DBS. We use the term “dystonia” to include various types of dystonia, which may be generalised or more limited to a particular group of muscles.

What is Deep Brain Stimulation?

We can use Deep Brain Stimulation as a treatment for some people with Tremor or Dystonia. Image of a man with arrows pointing at his head, shoulder and chest showing the path of the wire


Image of the top half of a man with  an arrow pointing to his head which says DBS electrodes.  A second arrow points to his shoulder and says extension wires. The third wire points to his chest and says pulse generator.


This involves very fine wires with electrodes at their tips being implanted into the brain. The electrodes send a continuous electrical pulse through them to change some of the electrical signals in the brain and reduce the symptoms of tremor or dystonia.

These wires are connected to extensions that are tunnelled under the skin behind the ear and down the neck. They are connected to a pulse generator (a device like a pacemaker) that is placed under the skin in the chest area or stomach area.

You will have sedation, which means you will be asleep during parts of the process. You may be asleep (under general anaesthetic) for the whole operation if you have some types of dystonia.

The neurosurgeons in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital have been implanting stimulators since 2004.


Images courtesy of Medtronic and Abbott

Is this operation appropriate for me?

Is this operation appropriate for me?

  • You must have been assessed and diagnosed by a movement disorder specialist
  • Your tremor or dystonia must be interfering significantly with your quality of life
  • All suitable medication options (including botulinum toxin for dystonia if appropriate) should have been tried at highest tolerated doses and either be unhelpful or give unacceptable side effects
  • You should have no evidence of dementia or significant memory disturbance.

What type of DBS is suitable for me?

Your DBS team will decide which type of operation is most suitable for you. There are a number of different areas in the brain that we can usefully target with the electrodes. Which area we target depends on your underlying diagnosis and your symptoms and signs. Generally,

• patients with significant tremor undergo DBS of the Ventral Intermediate (VIM) nucleus of the thalamus
• patients with dystonia undergo DBS of the Globus Pallidus (GP)

What could the benefits of DBS be for me?

• The aim for surgery for tremor is to reduce the tremor
• The aim for surgery for dystonia is to reduce the abnormal movements and postures caused by dystonia

What DBS cannot do

• DBS is not a cure for these underlying conditions, and is unlikely to completely take away symptoms of tremor or dystonia.

What are the complications of the operation?

What are the complications of the operation?

  • Haemorrhage which can cause stroke (the risk of stroke is 0.5% [1 in 200]) or death (the risk of death is low at 0.2% [1 in 500])
  • Infection risk is 5% (1 in 20). If antibiotic treatment does not help we may need to remove the whole DBS system
  • Seizures or Epilepsy – there is a small risk of the operation causing a seizure (fit) or recurrent seizures. The risk is less than 1% (less than 1 in 100)
  • Complications from general anaesthesia
  • It is possible that the electrode may not be in the most suitable location, or moves

Complications from the hardware

  • Lead breakage (lead fracture) which would mean replacing some parts of the system
  • Parts of the system eroding through the skin
  • Battery failure (we monitor for this)

Potential side effects from Deep Brain Stimulation

(Many are temporary and we can treat them by either adjusting the stimulation or medication)

  • Speech problems
  • Abnormal, involuntary muscle contractions
  • Dizziness
  • Movement problems

What happens if an operation is for me?

If we think that an operation may be the correct option for you then we discuss this with you at your outpatient appointment. You may not be certain yourself about whether you want to undergo an operation and there will be plenty of time to consider this, and no decision needs to be made on the initial day of assessment. We then organise further tests. You may need to have these as an inpatient or some may be done as an outpatient or day case. These tests need careful planning and this will be done via the DBS administrator.

What happens if DBS is not appropriate for me?

An operation will not be appropriate for all patients. This may be because there are reasons why it may be riskier to do the operation, or it may be apparent that an operation will not improve your symptoms and problems. If this is the case we will be able to discuss and explain why. You will not need further assessments with the DBS team and your care will continue with the team that referred you. They will consider what other treatments may be suitable for you.

Further assessments

If we think that an operation may be appropriate, we will organise further assessments. For these you may need to come into the ward for 2-3 days. Some patients can have the neuropsychology assessment as an outpatient.

  • MRI brain under general anaesthetic
    In order to get the best quality scan of your brain, you will have a brief general anaesthetic to put you to sleep for your MRI. You will need this MRI to help us plan your operation. It tells us if there are any changes in the brain that could make an operation more risky and this is used to target the area of the brain where the electrodes are placed.
  • Neuropsychology or Neuropsychiatry
    You will need a more detailed assessment of your thinking,
    memory and mood. DBS works best for patients with no or
    very mild memory or thinking problems. These tests need
    concentration and may be tiring. We may refer some patients
    to see a neuropsychiatrist.
  • Video recording
    We often do video assessments of patients before an operation, this helps us to document the severity of your condition. We would only do this with your consent, and it would be stored on your electronic file.

Once these assessments are completed we will review the results with the DBS team at the next multidisciplinary team meeting and make a final decision on whether we will offer you an operation. These meetings take place once per month. We will discuss this with you, usually in a clinic, or sometimes over the phone.

Getting the operation: admission

Day 1: admission

We will admit you to a neurosurgical ward and experienced staff will care for you. You will be able to eat, drink and take any other medications up until midnight before the day of the operation. The anaesthetist will usually visit you today.

Getting the operation: Day 2 operation

On the day of the operation staff will help you into a hospital gown. The staff will take you to the anaesthetic room where the anaesthetist will either give you sedation (for patients with tremor, this puts you into a comfortable, lightly sleeping state) or a general anaesthetic (for patients with some types of dystonia). We will shave your head and apply a frame to your scalp under local anaesthetic. We will take you for a CT head.

If you are getting DBS to the thalamus for tremor:

  • The way that we perform DBS in Glasgow is that after the frame is in place we reduce the sedation so that you are more awake. It is important to do this so that we can tell whether the electrodes are in the correct place, and improving your symptoms, without giving any significant side effects. Before we reduce this sedation, we will insert a recording electrode into the brain.
  • When you are awake we will make sure we are at the correct target from a combination of examination of you and recording from this electrode. Once we are certain we are in the correct place we will then insert the permanent electrode and fix it into place.

If you are having bilateral electrodes (on both sides of the brain) we will repeat this process on the other side.

  • After this you will have another CT head check. If this is satisfactory, we will then remove the frame, and put you to sleep with a general anaesthetic. Then an incision (cut) will be made into the skin of the chest wall and neck and the connecting wires and the stimulator (implantable pulse generator) will be placed into their positions.
  • Many patients have only a vague memory of the time spent under sedation during the first part of the operation.

If you are getting DBS to the Globus Pallidus for dystonia:

  • You remain asleep under general anaesthetic throughout (unlike tremor patients)
  • We will insert a recording electrode into the brain to make sure that we are at the correct target. Once we are happy that we are at the correct target then we will insert the permanent electrode and fix it into place. If you are having bilateral electrodes (the majority of patients), we will repeat this process on the other side. After this, you will have another CT head scan. We will then remove the frame. Then an incision (cut) will be made into the skin of the chest wall and neck and we will place the connecting wires and the stimulator (implantable pulse generator) into their positions.

Both types of operation are likely to last all day. At the end of the procedure we close the surgical incisions (cuts) with sutures and place a bandage on your head.

After your operation

Day 3-5: after your operation

Most patients recover quickly from the surgical procedure and are able to get up and around on the day after the operation and start taking their normal medications. We usually remove your head bandage on the second day after your operation.

When you are well enough after your operation you will be able to go home. At this time, we will not switch your stimulator on and you will need to come back to the hospital for this.

Surgical wound care 

The sutures in your wounds are normally left for 14 days after the operation and are usually removed by the surgical team in Glasgow, but can be removed at your local GP surgery if you live very far away. If you notice increasing redness, pain, swelling or discharge from any of your wounds after your discharge from hospital, you should contact your own GP or the ward directly.

Healing wounds at the top of head where the electrodes have been implanted Healing wounds at the top of head where the electrodes have been implanted

Photo of healing wound just behind the ear over extension wires   Healing wound just behind the ear over extension wires

Photo of healing wound on the chest over pulse generator  Healing wound on the chest over pulse generator

What happens after the operation?

Many patients feel their symptoms are better even before the stimulator is switched on, which is thought to be the result of swelling to the area of the brain after an operation. This is also known as implantation or impact effect. This initial effect will settle, and the amount of stimulation that you need will change as the brain recovers from the implantation, so it is usual to change the stimulator settings regularly during the months after your operation. You will need to attend regular outpatient appointments over this time, and it may take up to a year to understand properly how DBS is working for you.

The lifetime of the non-rechargeable DBS battery varies between patients, but usually lasts 3-5 years. We monitor the battery life in order that we can plan the battery replacements, which is a minor operation, which takes place under general anaesthetic. There is also a rechargeable battery available which may be beneficial for some patients.


Images courtesy of Medtronic and Abbott

Other advice and precautions after your operation


After your operation we advise that you do not drive for at least 6 weeks. DVLA rules and regulations are frequently updated so we advise you to check this with the DVLA at DVLA  www.gov.uk/driving-medical-conditions; (look under implanted electrodes or deep brain stimulation for movement disorder or pain).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

After the operation you should not have a MRI without discussing this with the DBS team. It may not be possible to have a MRI scan because of the implanted device.

Other surgery or medical procedures including dentistry

You may need a surgical procedure sometime in the future after your DBS operation (such as a joint replacement or spinal surgery). Your surgical team will need to know that you have a DBS device implanted before performing surgery, and may need to take some precautions (such as turning off the device). We advise you to have prophylactic antibiotics if you need dental work or procedures involving either a general anaesthetic or urinary catheterisation. This is to try to avoid bacteria settling on the DBS hardware and causing infection.

Diathermy (also known as electrocautery)

This is when an electric current is used to heat body tissues during surgery in order to seal blood vessels. If possible, only bipolar diathermy should be used in operations. However if only monopolar is available then the high voltage mode should be avoided. The power setting should be kept as low as possible and the ground plate should be kept as far away from the neurostimulator, extension and leads as possible.

You must avoid Shortwave Diathermy, Microwave Diathermy and Therapeutic Ultrasound Diathermy, physiotherapists tend to use these to relieve pain, stiffness and muscle spasms.

Other devices or equipment to avoid

Avoid security screening devices such as those in airports. When approaching them hand over your patient identification card and request a search by hand.

Other tests or scans

X-rays, CT scans and PET scans are not likely to affect the DBS system.

Devices that you can operate without any problem

Computers, copiers, faxes, electric blankets, heating pads, washing machines, dryers, garage door openers, electric stoves, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, shavers, remote controls, toasters, blenders, electric can openers, food processors, microwave ovens, televisions, radios, video recorders, CD players, mobile phone and tablets.

Physical Activity

After the surgical scars are healed (usually at least 6 weeks) you can return to most physical activities except for those that result in repeated blows to the device such as boxing. You should always wear a helmet for sports such as cycling, skiing, snowboarding and horse riding. You should avoid parachute jumping and skydiving.


You should not fly until 6 weeks after the operation.

Any questions

If you have any questions please ask the staff.

Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 01/01/2018

Next review date: 01/12/2022

Author(s): Dr Vicky Marshall.

Version: 3

Approved By: NHS Scotland Deep Brain Stimulation Team