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05-18 Deep brain stimulation may treat resistant anorexia nervosa

Deep brain stimulation may treat resistant anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a devastating disease and carries the highest morbidity and mortality out of any mental illness. It is characterized by a very low body weight, a decrease or the absence of food intake and a disturbance in the way in which body weight is perceived. Treatment is primarily aimed at a multitude of therapies such as behavioral therapies and psychotherapies. “The prognosis of anorexia nervosa is guarded,” according to a Medscape article, which also states that morbidity rates range from 10 to 20 percent, and that only 50 percent of patients make a full recovery; among the 50 percent who do not make a full recovery, 20 percent remain emaciated and 25 percent remain thin.

Deep brain stimulation shows promise

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been a proposed treatment for refractory anorexia nervosa. This procedure has been used to treat other forms of mental illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and major depression. DBS acts by triggering specific points in the dysfunctional neural circuits that lead to pathological behaviors. The limbic system, which plays a major role in emotional processing in the brain, has been shown to play a large role in anorexia nervosa. “…the ability of DBS to safely and effectively access limbic nodes in mood- and anxiety-related circuits suggested that it could be applied to AN, a disorder marked by high rates of depressed mood and affective dysregulation,” according to a study.

Although DBS seems promising to treat anorexia nervosa, it has not been introduced into clinical trials as of yet. Additionally, this potential treatment has only been used in a few people and, therefore, the risks and benefits have not been determined on a broader level. In a very small experimental treatment group, participants with anorexia nervosa who underwent DBS, showed a 40 percent decrease in depression rates and a 12 percent increase in their body mass index (BMI) after six months.

“We know risks but we don’t know benefits for anorexia at this point. We don’t have good data. DBS targets certain area of the brains, but we don’t have a good brain mapping of anorexia. A DBS treatment might affect other brain functions,” according to Finza Latif, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s National Health System.

Although there is still a long way to go, so far, this experimental treatment has shown promising results for individuals with anorexia nervosa.

About us

Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego treats adolescent girls with eating disorders. In addition, we treat adolescent boys and adolescent girls with alcohol abuse and drug abuse, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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