Deep brain stimulation is FDA approved for treating the tremor associated with Parkinson's disease. It is not approved yet for the treatment of depression, but clinical research over the last couple of years has been promising.
Clinical research trials are not available at the Mayo Clinic at this time, but are at a couple of sites both in and outside of the United States. It is not clear exactly how this "brain pacemaker" works, but it is thought that the electrical impulses generated by the stimulator reset the brain. This is theorized to return brain functioning to normal (including neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc.) and thus, treating the depression. As with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), this is a treatment reserved for severe, debilitating depression.
Deep brain stimulation requires a neurosurgical procedure. During the surgery, electrodes are implanted deep into the brain. Wires from the stimulator are attached to a battery operated stimulator that is implanted in the chest. The battery, stimulator, wires, etc. do have the potential to malfunction. This may require replacement of parts later on. Because this is an invasive procedure, it carries definite risks, some of which are life-threatening. These include, but are not limited to:
- Bleeding in the brain
- Unwanted mood changes
- Movement disorders
In addition, people who have undergone deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease have reported such side effects and adverse events as panic attack, speech difficulty, movement problems and even suicide.
Since this is a relatively new treatment, long term effects are not known. As with any treatment, discussion with your physician is important so you can understand the risks, benefits and alternatives. Weighing all of the pros and cons is crucial in the decision making process. This will ensure that you are making an informed decision by putting your health care as top priority.