Home » Psychosurgery » Psychosurgery Part 3: Deep Brain Stimulation

Psychosurgery Part 3: Deep Brain Stimulation

Highly Experimental Surgery for Chronic Depression

Deep brain stimulation is a highly experimental neurosurgical treatment for chronic depression is stimulated with electrical impulses.

Although it’s been approved for several other conditions, deep brain stimulation hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for depression treatment and is in the early stages of research.

Requiring brain surgery, deep brain stimulation is the most invasive form of brain stimulation treatment for depression. Deep brain stimulation works much like a pacemaker for your brain.1

Deep brain stimulation is some serious shit we’re talking about. It is also used for Parkinson’s disease and has many side effects, some of them potentially fatal or life altering. We’ll start with the surgical aspect of it. It is similar to a pacemaker, but for your brain, which has a lot of risks on its own. To top it all off, the long term effects aren’t even known yet, it’s still in the experimental phases2.

So, how does it work? There are electrodes placed deep in various areas of the brain that create pulses to override pre-existing ones causing disorders like depression, OCD and bipolar disorder. It is also said that the probes can effect certain cells and chemicals in the brain2. The amount of stimulation to the brain is controlled by a pacemaker like device implanted in the chest, with a wire (under the skin) connecting it to your brain. That sounds a little too much like Frankenstein to me!

Most people undergoing deep brain stimulation are in clinical trials. It has found to be generally safe, with normal surgery risks, but does have some permanent side effects that are irreversible. Generally, it is used in people who have tried everything. Currently it is used for Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, such as Tourette’s, but it is being tested in epilepsy, depression and more.

The surgery involves drilling small holes into the skull to implant the electrodes and surgery on the chest to install the pacemaker. There are complications to these surgeries such as: bleeding in the brain, stroke, infection, breathing problems, nausea, heart problems and scarring. It’s not a one time thing, either, those batteries aren’t changing themselves. There can also be malfunctions in the system, but the positive is that it would generally be where the pacemaker is, or where the wires run, so you don’t have to go through more brain surgery2.

Side effects after the surgery include: seizure, infection, headache, insomnia, memory problems and temporary swelling. The device is turned on after a couple of weeks which has a bundle of side effects, itself. These include: Numbness/tingling sensations, muscle tightness in the face or arm, speech problems, balance problems, lightheadedness and unwanted mood changes.

I thought it was supposed to help your mood?!

And the entire procedure is done while you’re awake, with a local anesthetic.

From the famous Mayo Clinic in the USA:

“Deep brain stimulation won’t cure your disease, but it may help lessen your symptoms. If deep brain stimulation works, your symptoms will improve significantly, but they usually don’t go away completely. In some cases, medications may still be needed for certain conditions. Deep brain stimulation isn’t successful for everyone. ”

To me, this surgery sounds scary and I don’t think it will be used frequently in mental illness due to the “unwanted mood changes” side effect. It’s serious surgery and needs constant upkeep (the battery in the pacemaker) plus you might still have to take daily meds. It would be a worst-case last-resort scenario, but you could be permanently brain damaged (well, any surgery can permanently damage you) and the success rate isn’t guaranteed.

  1. http://www.winmentalhealth.com/psychosurgery_lobotomy_cingulotomy.php

  2. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/deep-brain-stimulation/MY00184

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33 thoughts on “Psychosurgery Part 3: Deep Brain Stimulation

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