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Deep Brain Stimulation for Depression and OCD

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Updated July 22, 2006

Electrical and magnetic techniques have been used for years to treat severe mental health disorders. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was first, followed by transcranial magnetic stimulation and vagus nerve stimulation. A new technique, deep brain stimulation, is now being explored for treating severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), according to an article in the April 2006 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

In deep brain stimulation electrodes are implanted at specific locations. The electrodes are connected to a "brain pacemaker" in the chest which generates electrical pulses. The pulses can be controlled by a magnetic remote control.

FDA Approved for Some Uses

Deep brain stimulation is already FDA approved to treat Parkinson’s disease, severe muscle spasms (dystonias), and some forms of chronic pain. Research is ongoing to explore its use in epilepsy and cluster headaches. Research has just begun with patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe, but early results are promising. One early study looked at deep brain stimulation in six patients with severe chronic depression who had not been helped by psychotherapy, ECT, or drugs. Four of the patients responded well and were still better at a one year follow-up. Another study found that three our of four patients with OCD who received the treatment improved.

Deep brain stimulation may be useful in other severe mental illnesses, but it is not without risk. Because it is an invasive procedure involving brain surgery, other less invasive procedures may always be tried first. This technique appears promising for some patients who don't get better with other approaches.

Source: "Deep brain stimulation" Harvard Mental Health Letter April, 2006

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