High Intensity Ultrasound Might Ease OCD Symptoms

By Michael Movchin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s possible that high-intensity ultrasound could possibly relieve the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder in patients that are difficult to treat. In new preliminary research performed by the Yonsei University Medical Center in Seoul, Korea, doctor’s conducted an interesting new study that could open the door for new treatments for OCD sufferers.

The Study

The procedure performed by researchers involved the application of high-intensity focused ultrasound energy to heat and destroy areas of the brain that are damaged or diseased, through the use of ablation treatment.

Researchers studied 12 patients of Dr. Jin Woo Chang M.D. The results of the first four patients with six months follow up were then published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry.

Even though many patients with obsessive compulsive disorder will experience improvement with medication, some have debilitating symptoms that are difficult to treat. For those particular individuals, psychosurgery can be performed to destroy a targeted portion of the brain (anterior internal capsule) associated with the disorder.

The four patients, who suffered from crippling OCD that was not responsive to treatment and medication, were treated using focused ultrasound. The treatment is called InSightec ExAblate Neuro. It involves targeting the part of the brain known as the anterior internal capsule.

All four patients had these targeted areas in the brain successfully ablated with no complications or side effects. These patients experienced gradual improvement in their OCD thoughts and behaviors. More interestingly, they also had sustained improvement in depression and anxiety, which lasted for more than six months.

Dr. Chang reports, “There is a need for non-invasive treatment options for patients with OCD that cannot be managed through medication. Using focused ultrasound, we were able to reduce the symptoms for these patients and help them get some of their life back without the risks or complications of the more invasive surgical approaches that are currently available.”

Dr. Neal F. Kassell, M.D. chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation states,” If these initial results are confirmed in the remaining eight patients in this study as well as in a larger pivotal trial of safety and efficacy, focused ultrasound could emerge as an alternative to surgery for improving quality of life in a cost-effective manner for patients with OCD.”

Furthermore, Dr. Kassell also added, “This could also serve as the predicate for non-invasive therapy for other psychiatric disorders.”


The methods currently available for ablative therapies are invasive or involve radiation, such as radiofrequency ablation, deep brain stimulation and stereotactic radiosurgery.

OCD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by recurrent anxiety provoking obsessions, which are only alleviated through engaging in ritualistic behaviors. In cases of severe OCD, a person can experience overwhelming impairment and be left unable to function in their life.

People with OCD also incur a higher than average risk of depression, with two-thirds of them developing clinical depression. Dr. Chang plans to start a study using focused ultrasound in the management of depression disorders later in 2015.

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