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Almost one-tenth of Americans report they’re depressed at least occasionally, and while talk therapy and antidepressants help treat a number of these cases, they do not consistently work for some folks with serious depression.

New research last week released at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association increases the growing support to get a painless, noninvasive treatment that uses magnets to help to relieve depression by stimulating certain areas of the mind.

In the new study from a collaborative network of clinics round the US, 58 percent of the 307 patients with clinical depression who were treated together with the technique, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), were helped by the treatment. About a third of the patients went into remission, in line with the researchers.

“While medications have made a tremendous change for individuals over the past several decades, there are many individuals for whom drugs don’t work as well as they should,” says Ian Cook, MD, director of the UCLA Depression Research Program and a member of the study team. “Having this as an alternative really expands the number of people that expect to recover from depression.”

The device that produces TMS treatment, the only such device approved to be used in America by the Food and Drug Administration, is made by Neuronetics of Malvern, Pa., and is called NeuroStar. It was accepted by the FDA in 2008, and especially suggested for patients whose depression is not treatable with antidepressants. Ever since then, use of TMS has radically grown. About 5,000 patients have been been treated with it at about 400 sites nationally, according to the device maker, as quoted in The Boston Globe.

How Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Works

TMS uses a magnetic field to produce a low electric current to stimulate the mind. While the patient sits in a reclining chair without demand of anesthetic, the treating doctor or technician aims the magnet as the device beams about 3,000 electrical pulses in a treatment session. Patients with melancholy exhibit less activity in that brain area, previous studies have revealed. Doctors say brain cells likely excite and stimulates them to fire. The procedure takes about 40 minutes.

“The odd thing is the pressure was coming from your interior of your mind, not the outside,” said Ruth Schwer, a patient who used the treatment, in a Indianapolis Star article. She described the sensation as feeling just like a woodpecker. Over time, she got used to it, she told the Star. After her third week on the treatment, Schwer believed it was working. “I understood I had the independence to direct my focus to where I needed it to go,” she told the paper. “Having the option to see happiness and delight, I felt like something had definitely changed for me.”

SEE ALSO:  Living Alone Linked to Greater Risk of Melancholy

An Alternate to Electroshock?

TMS may seem a little like electroshock therapy, which triggers brain seizures to boost action in the left frontal area. But the current used in TMS generates clinical benefits without seizures. It truly is much milder than that of electroshock treatment, which requires general anesthesia and has really been connected to memory and other cognitive losses.

Until now, electroshock therapy is the only real alternative for patients with serious depression for whom medications or chat treatment had not worked.

“Electroconvulsive therapy has existed since 1930s and stays the proverbial big firearm to use when nothing else has helped,” Dr. Cook says. “That’s still likely to be the case to get quite a while in the future, but now TMS has become something else to try earlier in the therapy choice algorithm.”

About half of patients have shown improvement, a rate that is lower than for patients treated with electroconvulsive therapy, which includes an 86 percent success rate for severe depression. But because magnetic therapy is non-invasive and requires no drug, it might be an attractive treatment option to electroconvulsive therapy for many people. Scientists have urged more study of possible unwanted effects of TMS, that might include alterations to immune system or neurotransmitter action.

TMS treatment will be given in combination with antidepressant treatment and is typically given per week for 4 to 6 weeks to five times. Electroconvulsive therapy is typically given two or three times a week for 6 to 12 treatments, according to DoctorOz.com.

One study that looked at the long-term effectiveness found when patients also stayed on one antidepressant drugs, that benefits lasted at least six months after therapy. “There are people who have theorized that TMS may alter the mind ‘s susceptibility to medications, among its many effects” Cook says. “Things that had not been effective before seem to really have a new lease on helping melancholy after TMS.” More-term advantages of TMS haven’t been analyzed, Cook notes.

The Future for Magnetic Beat Therapy for Depression

A Neuronetics spokesman said that scientists are now examining whether TMS might be a safer approach to treating pregnant women struggling with melancholy from entering the the infant’s bloodstream to avoid antidepressants. TMS is also being tested in clinical trials for conditions including epilepsy, tinnitus, pain, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and stroke, based on U.S. News and World Report.

“There’s burgeoning research with [magnetic pulse treatment] since it’s very well tolerated,” Rizwan Kahn, a board certified psychiatrist at St. Francis Hospital in Columbia, Ga., told the Columbus-Ledger Inquirer. “For those who own a treatment that’s well-tolerated, that may be a big plus. I believe there is an incredibly bright future with this particular modality.”

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