DBS and Swimming

Patients who received deep brain stimulation devices are warned not to swim in deep water alone. Daniel Waldvogel, Christian Baumann of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zurich and colleagues report nine patients who lost their ability to swim after receiving deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN-DBS) for Parkinson’s disease.

The paper published in the January 2020 issue of Neurology describes three cases in detail. Each of the patients had been excellent swimmers prior to surgery and now experienced problems swimming. Three of the total nine patients tried switching off DBS for swimming and all three found their ability to swim came back immediately.

Swimming is a complex movement requiring arm-leg coordination for effective strokes. DBS might affect brain areas in the supplementary motor area (SMA). Further studies are needed to determine the impact of DBS on this brain region.

The percentage of patients who experience loss of swimming skills has not been systematically determined and is unknown.

The authors conclude that until the mechanism of the swimming problems after STN-DBS is elucidated, patients need to be advised of the potential risk of drowning and their swimming skills need to be carefully assessed before going into deep water.

Beware of deep water after subthalamic deep brain stimulation. Waldvogel D, Baumann-Vogel H, Stieglitz L, Hänggi-Schickli R, Baumann CR. Neurology. 2020 Jan 7;94(1):39-41. Journal

See also video showing a woman with difficulties to swim. She had been a proficient swimmer prior to surgery.