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Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is the primary surgical procedure performed today for Parkinson’s and is one of the leading treatments for those who don’t respond to oral medications.

Parkinson’s disease destroys neurons in your brain that send signals to your body relating to movement, your mood, and more. Treatments for Parkinson’s don’t provide a cure, but they can help relieve your symptoms.

Medications like levodopa are most often used to treat Parkinson’s disease and its symptoms. If oral medications aren’t working for you, surgical options such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be worth considering.

This article will take a look at surgical options for Parkinson’s disease, including who’s a good candidate, details about the procedures, and success rates.

Surgical treatments for Parkinson’s disease are usually reserved for people who don’t respond to oral medications. If you’ve tried other treatment strategies without improvement, a doctor or healthcare professional may suggest surgical approaches or other therapies to help control your symptoms.

Most surgical techniques developed to help treat Parkinson’s disease focus on relieving motor symptoms or improving the delivery of dopamine replacement therapy.

Surgical techniques for Parkinson’s include:

  • Ablative surgery: This surgery locates and destroys (ablates) the tissues in your brain that cause tremors and other symptoms of Parkinson’s.
  • Transplantation: Also called restorative surgery, this treatment implants dopamine-producing cells into certain parts of your brain.
  • DBS: This procedure inserts a deep brain stimulator into the areas of your brain that are causing tremors and slowness. Instead of destroying the cells, the stimulator disables them with pulses of electricity. This treatment has been shown to improve symptoms with fewer side effects than other treatments.

There may also be a need for corrective surgeries in some people with Parkinson’s disease. Falls are common, and it’s not unusual for people with Parkinson’s disease to develop spine misalignment. Your need for these types of procedures will depend on your individual symptoms and what complications you might develop.

What does it mean to have Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes movement, mood, and cognitive problems. The disease attacks neurons, which send signals from your brain out to your body. Symptoms of the disease usually get worse over time.

There are many treatment options for Parkinson’s disease, but none are a cure.

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DBS was pioneered in the 1980s and cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003 to treat Parkinson’s disease. It has become a preferred surgical option.

Today, it’s viewed as the second most important Parkinson’s disease treatment discovery, after the oral medication levodopa.

DBS uses surgically implanted electrodes and a neurotransmitter to send electric currents through your neural networks.

These electric currents don’t cure Parkinson’s, but they can help derail the abnormal electric signals being generated from the disease. This disruption can lead to an improvement in symptoms such as tremors.

Not everyone is a candidate for DBS. This option does require an invasive surgical procedure for the initial implantation.

The initial implantation of electrodes and the neurotransmitter used in DBS is an invasive process that can take several hours. But changes to the stimulation system can be done noninvasively once you’ve recovered.

Adjustments to the programming of the neurotransmitter are done remotely in your surgeon’s office after the initial implantation.

Whether you have DBS or another procedure to treat Parkinson’s disease, people with Parkinson’s who undergo surgery may experience the following complications:

Talk with a doctor before DBS surgery about what to expect, as well as any steps you might be able to take to prevent surgical complications.

Other symptoms you may experience after DBS surgery for Parkinson’s

DBS isn’t a procedure that comes without side effects. While DBS can be helpful in relieving some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, some studies have linked the procedure to an increase in depression, forgetfulness, and other cognitive or psychological symptoms.

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Most chronic diseases or conditions have some impact on your recovery from surgery and other invasive procedures. Parkinson’s disease is no exception.

General anesthesia can mask the neurological symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and even make them worse right after surgery.

Additionally, anesthetics and other medications used during surgery have a high risk of interacting with the medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease. So any surgical plans should be coordinated with the doctor who oversees your Parkinson’s care.

Some studies have also found that spinal anesthetic resulted in fewer postsurgical complications than general anesthetic in people with Parkinson’s.

Due to potential complications that may occur during and after surgery, selecting candidates for DBS — or even considering people for other surgical procedures — involves a complex selection process that might involve multiple health specialists.

There are no surgeries or medications that can cure Parkinson’s disease completely. One study revealed that unrealistic expectations played a role in between 4% and 38% of the people with Parkinson’s being rejected for DBS.

Talk with a doctor about the anticipated outcomes of medical or surgical treatment for your particular symptoms and stage of Parkinson’s disease. Keep in mind that you’ll need to continue working with a healthcare professional and receiving treatment for Parkinson’s regardless of the therapy you receive.

In one study, nearly 73% of people with Parkinson’s disease who were treated with DBS reported an improvement in tremors more than any other symptom.

More than 90% of people who had the procedure were happy with the outcome. Between 50% and 78% say the treatment helped them regain independence in completing daily activities such as dressing, cooking, and running errands.

Parkinson’s surgeries in popular culture

While some medical television dramas may oversell their ability to treat certain conditions (such as Dr. Meredith Gray curing Parkinson’s disease in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy), others can help educate or remove fear for people with a particular condition.

For example, brain surgery can be a scary concept, but providing awareness of these procedures in popular culture and among celebrities can provide a dose of reassurance. Such is the case with Michael J. Fox, who underwent a DBS procedure in 2015. Another was Greg Grindley, who was the first patient to ever have a DBS procedure broadcast live on National Geographic in 2015.

Even without live surgeries being broadcast or fictitious TV cures, finding connections with famous people and celebrities might make living with diseases such as Parkinson’s a little more relatable for some people.

Famous people who have received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • George H. W. Bush
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Neil Diamond
  • Alan Alda
  • Billy Graham
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Janet Reno
  • Linda Rondstadt
  • Robin Williams
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Can you have back surgery if you have Parkinson’s?

Whether you’re a candidate for any surgery is a decision best made by you and the doctor who oversees your Parkinson’s care. Back and spinal surgeries are fairly common in people with Parkinson’s disease to correct spinal misalignments and other deformities that can result from the disease.

Can you have cataract surgery if you have Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease isn’t a deal-breaker for cataract surgery. In fact, many people with Parkinson’s undergo cataract surgery. Talk with the surgeon and the healthcare professional who oversees your Parkinson’s care about managing tremors and other complications that could put your procedure at risk.

What are ICD codes for Parkinson’s surgery?

The diagnosis code for Parkinson’s disease is G20, but codes for a DBS surgery can vary. Some of the most common International Classification of Diseases (ICD) billing codes for DBS surgery to treat Parkinson’s disease include:

  • 00H00MZ (lead implantation)
  • 00H03MZ (lead implantation)
  • L8679 (neurostimulator implantation)
  • L8686 (neurostimulator implantation)
  • L8687 (neurostimulator implantation)
  • L8688 (neurostimulator implantation)
  • 61863 (surgical procedures)
  • 61864 (surgical procedures)
  • 61867 (surgical procedures)
  • 61868 (surgical procedures)
  • 95970 (device programming)
  • 95983 (device programming)
  • 95984 (device programming)

How much does Parkinson’s surgery cost?

The exact cost of a DBS surgery depends on a number of factors, including where you live, what other medical issues you have, and what complications you develop.

In this older study, the cost was estimated at roughly $162,000 in the initial DBS procedure and within 5 years afterward. Other research estimates the DBS cost being around $135,000.

Medicare has also covered certain DBS procedures since 2003.

Check with your individual health insurance provider or public health agency before your surgery to confirm coverage.

There are a few surgical options that can be used to help manage your Parkinson’s disease symptoms, but none are a cure.

DBS is the main surgical procedure performed today. It’s one of the leading treatments for Parkinson’s for those who don’t respond to oral medication.

Talk with a healthcare professional to see if you’re a candidate for surgery to treat your Parkinson’s disease or other conditions.