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What does a lobotomy do?

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Quick Answer

A lobotomy is a surgical procedure that severs the connections between the prefrontal lobe and the rest of the brain. It was used in the past to attempt to treat a variety of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, manic depression, schizophrenia, severe mental depression and even anxiety.

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Full Answer

The lobotomy procedure was invented in 1935 by Portuguese physician António Egas Moniz, who actually received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1949 as a result of this. Thousands of lobotomies were performed in the U.S. and around the globe from the time it was discovered until it began to be discredited in the 1960s.

Many physicians experimented with this form of severing the frontal lobe, as they believed that this would eliminate most mental illnesses, due to the fact that most behavioral and mental problems originate in this region of the brain.

The first lobotomy procedures that were performed involved cutting a small hole in the skull, then injecting the frontal lobe with ethanol to destroy the connections between it and the rest of the brain. Later, Moniz developed a technique where he would use a wire to sever the connections, while American neurosurgeon Walter Freeman used a hammer to drive a modified icepick into a patient's eye cavity in order to cut these connections.

While lobotomies did have a positive effect on some patients, they also led to a huge number of very serious side effects, sometimes killing the patient or leaving them in a total vegetative state. The procedure was eventually completely abandoned during the '50s and '60s, as new research showed its ineffectiveness, while new medications were also developed that provided much more positive results.

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