Deep Brain Stimulation for Severe Anorexia Nervosa

This week, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto published a paper in The Lancet describing the results of a small study using deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat severe/chronic anorexia nervosa. Major news outlets, including the BBC, reported on the findings. A few people emailed and messaged me asking me to do a post about it (which is cool! I love it!). So here it is.

DBS is a surgical procedure that involves implanting an electrode that delivers electrical signals to the brain. DBS is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders with good success, and has recently been implicated in the treatment of OCD and depression as well. (This is a pretty good video explaining how DBS works for movement disorders. There’s lots of information online about how DBS works, so I won’t go into detail here.)

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How Can We Treat Chronic and Severe Anorexia Nervosa? (On the Need for New Approaches)

Treating anorexia nervosa is hard. Treating chronic and severe anorexia nervosa is a lot harder. Although the situation seems to be improving, there are really no evidence-based treatments for anorexia nervosa – particularly for those who have been sick for a long time.

Patients with severe and enduring anorexia nervosa have one of the most challenging disorders in mental health care  (Strober, 2010).They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness with markedly reduced life expectancy (Harbottle et al., 2008). At 20 years the mortality rate is 20%, and given the young age of onset this results in many young adults dying in their 30s, and a further 5–10% every decade thereafter (Steinhausen, 2002)… Patients are often under- or unemployed, on sickness benefits, suffer multiple medical complications… have repeated admissions to general and specialist medical facilities, and are frequent users of primary care services (Birmingham and Treasure, 2010;

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