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Surgery may lessen Parkinson's symptoms

Burning a tiny hole deep within the brain can relieve some symptoms of Parkinson's disease for at least two years, a study found.

The approach, called pallidotomy, has received considerable attention in recent years, and the latest study is among the largest to assess the operation.The surgery relieves some of the symptoms of the disease itself, which can include tremors and stiffness, as well as uncontrollable arm and leg movements triggered by the medicines used to treat the disease.

In the latest study, doctors treated 40 patients and followed them for up to two years. It found that the patients showed significant improvement both while taking medications and while off them.

The doctors found that while some of the benefits began to wear off after about a year, patients still showed clear improvement two years later.

The target of the surgery is one of a pair of grape-size structures deep in the brain called the globus pallidus. This part of the brain helps control movement and can be overactive in Parkinson's disease.

About half of the patients who needed help taking care of themselves were able to live independently six months after surgery. Two years later, they were still able to feed and dress themselves.

It is unclear how long the benefits will last. However, a team from New York University has reported that they may last for at least four years.

The latest study was conducted by Dr. Anthony E. Lang and others from Toronto Hospital and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.