Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

An experimental treatment alternative

Deep brain stimulation involves the use of thin electrodes that are implanted in the brain to target specific areas deep in the brain. Developed in the 1960s as a treatment for chronic pain, movement disorders and epilepsy, DBS was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the late 1990s to treat Parkinson’s disease and tremor. Since that time, the FDA has approved the use of DBS on a case-by-case basis to treat obsessive compulsive disorder. To date, less than 100 patients have received DBS implants for the treatment of OCD, but the results are very encouraging.

DBS is still classified as an experimental therapeutic method for the treatment of depression. Studies are underway to determine whether DBS may be an effective alternative for treatment-resistant depression. Early indications are promising, but definitive trials have yet to be completed to prove that the technique is effective in the treatment of depression.

A surgical procedure is necessary to open small holes in the skull and implant the electrodes, using precision-guided surgical techniques. The electrodes are then connected to a small, programmable stimulator, similar to a cardiac pacemaker, which resides just beneath the skin below the collarbone, similar to where pacemakers are placed.

DBS is considered an invasive procedure, since it involves gaining direct physical access to the brain. Risks include bleeding into the brain, stroke, infection and complications from brain stimulation.