(WUSA 9) -- Six patients were likely to live with chronic anorexia for the rest of their lives. They were likely to die early. These six patients had close to 50 hospitalizations combined. With anorexia having one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder, something had to be done.
Deep brain stimulation was a last resort.
These six patients participated in a new study that used deep brain stimulation (DBS), brain surgery that sends electric impulses to impaired brain circuits, to combat their disease.
Evidence shows that anorexic patients lack proper brain circuits in areas that control emotion. These circuits include: mood regulation, anxiety, reward and body-perception.
The electrodes were placed, and then stimulated, on specific parts of the brain that dealt with emotion. Researchers saw that four out of the six patients experienced a shift in their moods, anxiety, control over emotional responses and urges to binge and purge.
The University Health Network reports, "Research has shown that addressing the emotional symptoms, psychological issues and other mental illnesses associated with anorexia - rather than solely treating low body weight - is linked to lower rates of relapse and improved treatment outcomes."
By targeting the emotion behind anorexia, researchers saw that after nine months, three patients were able to gain significant weight that was unprecedented. It was the longest period of weight gain that any of the patients were able to maintain.
The study was conducted at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and the University Health Network in Canada. The patients were an average age of 38, and all but one suffered from other psychiatric disorders. DBS has never before been used for chronic anorexia, but it has been used previously to treat Parkinson's disease and chronic pain.
Five out of the six patients saw positive changes. The only patient that didn't see benefits suffered a seizure after the first surgery due to a preexisting metabolic disorder that stemmed from her anorexia.
With 20 percent of anorexia patients obtaining no benefit from available treatment, according to the University Health Network, could deep brain stimulation be a solution?