By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Deep brain stimulation has been successful in helping to treat several conditions such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, major depression and chronic pain. The impulse generator that delivers the electrical impulses to targeted areas of the brain can be regulated from outside the body, and the whole procedure is therefore controlled by a neurologist, nurse or trained technician to guard against severe side effects.
Like any other neuropsychiatric intervention, deep brain stimulation can cause several notable side effects and healthcare providers aim to increase the efficacy of treatment while decreasing the risk of these side effects.
Some of the reported side effects of using deep brain stimulation include both neurological as well as psychiatric effects such as:
Apathy or listlessness and loss of interest in leisure and recreational activities as well as daily activities
Hallucinations that may be visual or auditory
Compulsive gambling and an urge to place bets that may lead to complete financial ruin
Increased libido and sexual appetite
Impaired judgement and cognitive dysfunction
Voyeurism and other perversions
Suicidal tendencies and attempts
Most of these side effects are temporary and can be reversed by calibrating and regulating the impulses sent to the brain via the impulse generator.
Complications and side effects can arise from the surgical procedure itself if the electrodes become displaced or dislodged for example and there is bleeding, swelling or bruising of the brain. Such complications can potentially lead to severe side effects such as personality changes, stroke, and encephalitis or infection of the brain.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc