Battling Obesity with Brain Surgery

Obesity treatments range from physician-supervised diet and exercise programs to bariatric surgery. Now, a team of neurosurgeons is trying a different approach by stimulating the brain.

Many people have tried virtually everything to lose weight, from exercise programs to countless diets, supplements and even weight loss surgery. Now, a group of doctors is taking a revolutionary approach to treating clinical obesity with a radical surgery that could prove to be the key to losing weight when all else fails.

A team of neurosurgeons from West Virginia University Health Sciences Center are studying deep brain stimulation as a possible weight loss treatment for individuals diagnosed as obese. During the experimental treatment, doctors insert wires into different parts of the patient’s brain that are believed to control hunger and satisfaction of food. Two pacemaker devices are then implanted into the chest and pulses of electricity are gradually turned up in the following months.

Doctors say the desired reaction to the electric currents sent to the brain is a feeling of fullness, which will curb eating habits and the urge to consume excess calories when a person is already full.

The experimental surgery is not for the overweight, but only intended for those who are obese who have exhausted all other means of losing weight, including bariatric surgery. The risks of deep brain stimulation include a one percent chance of bleeding, stroke, coma or death. While the option may seem drastic to some, brain stimulation has proven to be successful in treating neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

The overall long term effects of deep brain stimulation for obesity is still unknown, but doctors are hopeful that the experimental treatment will be a possible alternative to those who tried every other treatment to losing weight without success.

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