The Food and Drug Administration has approved “deep brain stimulation” for treatment resistant obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. This is the first instance that this procedure, which involves the surgical implantation of electrodes deep within the brain to trigger electrical activity, has been approved for use in a psychiatric syndrome. The implants have previously been used to treat movement disorders, mostly notably Parkinson’s disease.
Once the electrodes are surgically in place, clinicians control how the electrical impulses are delivered to the brain via a battery-operated, pacemaker device outside of the body. Through a trial and error process, physicians assess what electrical activity patterns are most apt to help patients while producing the least side effects.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety condition characterized by persistent thoughts and compulsions. It is a chronic condition fraught with considerable suffering, shame, guilt and self-doubt, and is often incapacitating as well. Obsessions are recurring anxiety-producing thoughts such as a fear of contamination, or “germophobia,” and safety concerns. Compulsions are ritualistic behavioral responses performed in response to obsessions. Common compulsions include repeated washing of the hands and repeated checking of door and window locks.
FDA approval of deep brain stimulation for OCD suggests that this regulatory body believes that this procedure might help ameliorate anxiety – a dominant factor in the disorder. The technique is reserved for intractable obsessive-compulsive disorder when conventional management, such as cognitive-behavioral therapies and medication, has failed to generate measurable results.
The device approved by the FDA is named Reclaim and is manufactured by Medtronic Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota.