People with obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, have compulsive thoughts and are driven by excessive habits that may seem impossible to break. In the past when therapy and medication didn’t work, patients had few other options. But, a surgery that has been successful in treating patients with Parkinson’s disease is now helping people cope with OCD.
For Cathy Fowlkes, everyday activities like keeping a doctor’s appointment signal a small victory over the condition that kept her housebound for years. She says, “I wasted about 30 years of my life.”
Cathy struggled with OCD and feared she was spreading germs to others. “I would sit on the edge of my couch with baby wipes, and a can of Lysol, and that was pretty much it,” she explained.
Even when Cathy wanted to leave, obsessive thoughts would nearly paralyze her as she pulled out of the driveway.
She said, “I thought I hit somebody, and so then I would have to go back and check to make sure and then I would have to go back again.” Years of therapy and medication had little impact.
Neurosurgeon at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Donald Whiting, MD said “she was really kind of at the end of the line.”
Dr. Whiting is an expert in deep brain stimulation surgery, or DBS. “Just like with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, there are different circuitries in the brain for psychiatric disorders or psychiatric function,” Dr. Whiting explained.
During DBS surgery, doctors insert electrodes into the brain — attached to cables and an implantable battery. The device delivers a small jolt to areas that aren’t firing correctly. For OCD patients, the focus is a small region behind the eye, near the temple.
Dr. Whiting said, “for people who have tried everything else with severe OCD, it can give them their life back.”
Cathy said, “people with OCD really, really suffer. And they just can’t snap out of it, or get over it.” But now, thanks to cutting-edge treatment, some can live with it.
DBS for OCD is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under what’s called a “Humanitarian Device Exemption.” Dr. Whiting says the surgery is not for every patient, but can be effective in a select group of people who have failed with therapy and medication.