Deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure to reduce Parkinson's symptoms, is more effective for patients with advanced disease than medication and may have fewer side effects than drugs do.
Those are the conclusions of a study pubished in the New England Journal of Medicine Thursday.
The study found nearly a 25 percent improvement in symptoms in those undergoing deep brain stimulation while the medication group stayed the same.
"Deep brain stimulation improves the quality of life in patients with advanced Parkinson's disease at a stage when medical treatment is no longer able to improve quality of life," said the study's lead author, Dr. Guenther Deuschl, professor of neurology and chairman of the department of neurology at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.
"It is important that the time during which these (deep brain stimulation) patients were immobile decreased highly significantly, the time with good mobility increased, and the sleep time also increased," he said.
Parkinson's is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that causes tremors, stiffness, slowness of movements, and impaired balance and coordination. About one million Americans have Parkinson's disease, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Another 40,000 are diagnosed with the disease each year.
Deep brain stimulation is a procedure generally reserved for people with severe Parkinson's symptoms and for those who no longer get much relief from medications. The procedure involves placing a thin wire that can carry electrical currents deep within the brain.
For this study, the wire was placed in the subthalamic region of the brain. The wire was then attached to a deep brain stimulator, which sent an electrical current to that area of the brain.
This method temporarily shuts down the activities of the brain cells in that area of the brain. Deep brain stimulation doesn't cure Parkinson's disease but temporarily blocks the abnormal signals sent by the brain that cause tremors and other symptoms.