If you want to know what brain stimulation is and whether it can help you this page is a good starting point. It is only a brief overview, but it will give you an idea, which will help you to determine if you should investigate this relatively new brain treatment further.
An Overview of Electrical Stimulation of the Brain
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a complex neuro-surgical technique that is still very much in the development stages. During surgery, a device that sends electrical impulses deep into the brain is implanted into the skull, and probes to carry the electricity to the relevant area are placed directly into the brain.
These devices have been described as brain pacemakers and it is quite a good description because they work in a very similar way. In 1997, the FDA approved the use of these devices to treat a limited range of conditions.
What Conditions Can Be Treated Using Electrical Brain Stimulation?
Potentially this kind of device can be used to treat a wide range of disorders.
Here is a list of current applications:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic pain syndrome
Research is also being carried out into using it to treat the following conditions:
- Psychomotor seizures
The Future of Deep Brain Stimulation
As you can see, there is a lot of potential for this kind of treatment. However, it is likely to take many years before this treatment becomes widely available.
There are several reasons for this. Below is a quick summary of the hurdles this field will need to overcome before this treatment option becomes viable and more widely available.
- The cost of deep brain stimulation – the surgery needed to carry out this treatment regime is expensive. Brain surgery is always complex and very time consuming.
- A lack of trained surgeons – the skill set required for this surgery is complex. Across the world, there are only a few thousand brain surgeons who have the necessary skill set. They are already very busy dealing with trauma related surgeries, so have very little time available to carry out elective procedures like DBS.
- Risk management – this is a new kind of surgery, which means that the risk of something going wrong is high. Little is known about the long-term management of patients who have undergone the procedure. Any hospital that offers this kind of new surgery is taking on a lot of risk. If things go wrong, they can easily end up being sued. Naturally, only a relatively small group of clinics and hospitals are able to take on the risk and offer this type of surgery.
To help you to understand just how hard it is going be to develop this treatment option to the point where it becomes widely available below we have put together a case study. We have taken a particular disease, OCD, and pulled together a summary of what professionals in the field say about this innovative new treatment.
Reading it will give you a good sense of the fears and concerns of these professionals. This in turn will help you to see why it may take a while before this promising treatment option is fully developed and becomes widely used.
Deep Brain Stimulation and OCD
In depth research into the option of using DBS to treat patients with OCD is being carried out in both Belgian and Sweden. Both groups have opted to use stereo-tactic surgery or stereotaxy to implant the electrodes into the mind.
The Surgical Technique Used
This surgical technique allows the surgeon to carry out the surgery using minimally invasive methods. A three dimensional view of the mind is available to the surgeon, which allows him or her to implant the electrodes accurately with the minimum amount of cutting.
The fact that the surgical techniques used by both teams are the same is great. It means that the method can be defined, which makes it easy for other surgeons to use and adapt it.
The Areas Stimulated
However, unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at things, the two research teams have decided to stimulate different areas of the mind. This is not surprising when you consider that OCD is a complex condition that is still not fully understood.
However, the fact that different areas of the mind are being stimulated to treat the underlying cause of OCD is concerning for those who treat the condition. It is causing confusion and making it hard for doctors to determine if the treatment can be used for his or her patients. There is not enough reliable data available to allow them to decide which area of the mind should be stimulated in each patient. The fact there is choice is good, but not when there are so many options.
Side Effects Not Yet Fully Understood
Make the wrong choice for a particular patient and you run the risk of making things worse. In addition, the long-term side effects of the treatment are not known. Some test subjects have experienced hyper sexuality, hallucinations, fits and nausea.
Any surgery is risky. There is the risk of infection and swelling of the brain after surgery is always a risk. The brain will be scarred due to the incision cut.
There are a lot of potential risks involved, so some medical professionals are worried about treating a condition like OCD, which is not life threatening, using a potentially risky surgical procedure.
There is no doubt that this technique will be developed. Patients who find themselves living very limited lives because of their conditions are creating demand for this radical treatment option. However, in all likelihood, it will be a decade or more before it becomes a widely available treatment option.
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