Deep Brain Stimulation Studied as Last-Ditch Obesity Treatment

No major side effects seen in 3 patients over nearly 3 years

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Although deep brain stimulation is considered a generally safe therapy for the right patients, it is a major undertaking that requires two surgeries -- one to implant electrodes in the brain and another to place the neurostimulator. The potential risks include infection, a blood clot or bleeding in the brain, or an allergic reaction to the DBS parts.

If deep brain stimulation ever does become an option for managing severe obesity, Whiting said, he would expect it only to be used when all else fails. "This would definitely be a last resort," he said.

"At first, it would absolutely be a last-ditch option," neurosurgeon Halpern said. But, he added, it's also possible that deep brain stimulation could become an add-on therapy, used after gastric bypass for some patients whose weight does not fall -- or even an alternative in certain cases where bypass surgery is too risky.

Medtronic provided the deep brain stimulation hardware for the study and funded the work. One of Whiting's co-researchers is employed by the company.

More information

Learn more about brain stimulation therapies from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

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