Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

If you are suffering from the psychiatric condition obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may be able to get help from deep brain stimulation, a therapy that regulates brain activity. It can relieve the disruptive symptoms of OCD — uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) you may need to repeat over and over.

How does DBS help OCD?

DBS is not an initial therapy for OCD. Medication and psychotherapy are usually tried first. Deep brain stimulation may be added if you don’t respond well to other therapies. DBS sends electricity to specific areas of the brain to change thoughts and behavior.

AHN neurosurgeons have performed DBS surgery for years and have done extensive research in using DBS for OCD. Donald Whiting, MD, was the first neurosurgeon in Allegheny County to perform the procedure and has provided relief to more than 900 patients so far. We are now extending this expertise to OCD.

How is DBS done?

DBS requires surgery to implant the electrodes in your brain and an electricity generator in your chest. First, we take MRI scans of your brain and skull. Next, your surgeon will drill small holes in the top of the skull and place the electrodes. You will be awake during this part of the procedure, so your surgeon can communicate with you. This assures the electrodes are placed in the right spot. You won’t feel anything, and we will help you relax. We will place electrodes in the ventral capsule/ventral striatum of your brain, the area scientists believe is associated with OCD.

You will then go under general anesthesia (put to sleep) while your team connects the electrodes to a generator implanted in your chest.

The implants create ongoing electrical pulses that reset the part of your brain that is malfunctioning, eliminating the nerve signals that cause OCD symptoms. You’ll work with your surgical team to adjust the frequency and intensity of the pulses for the best possible results.

Side effects of DBS

There are always risks for any brain surgery, but our neurosurgeons take extreme caution to ensure that surgeries are as safe as possible. The risks include:

  • Bleeding in the brain or stroke.
  • Infection.
  • Disorientation or confusion.
  • Unwanted mood changes.

Insurance coverage

Though different insurance plans cover mental health treatments differently, deep brain stimulation is often covered by insurance companies for depressive disorders. Check with your insurance company to understand how your treatment will be covered.

Talk to our specialists

If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (412) 330-4429, Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM, or weekends from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM. You will need to call us to schedule an initial evaluation with a psychiatrist and a neurologist before you start DBS therapy.

If someone is in immediate danger, call The Hope Line: 1-800-SUICIDE, (412) 960-8673.