A new treatment for depression has been showing some promising results for patients experiencing chronic depression.
The treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, and like the title suggests the treatment involves having an electromagnetic field applied to the head to stimulate specific areas. Brain scans suggest transcranial magnetic stimulation can cause changes in the circuitry of the brain, hence why the treatment is being targeted to people with severe depression and other psychological conditions.
In depression, doctors target the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain involved in decision making, mood and emotional responses. This month, U.S. researchers reported that the treatment triggered significant improvements in patients with severe depression who had failed to respond to other treatments, including antidepressants.
Sue’s Story: Hope In A New Therapy
In Chloe Lambert’s article for the Daily Mail, Can holding a magnet against your head help defeat depression?, she discusses the story of a doctor, Sue Mildrid, who recently found success with rTMS. For decades, Sue suffered from a depression that was so severe it hindered her ability to go to work.
Sue tried most conventional therapies, including electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which began showing some positive results at first. But it wasn’t long until Sue noticed her memory being affected by the treatment, a common side effect to ECT. At that point Sue became convinced that she would always be living with her condition.
That all changed when Sue discovered rTMS. ‘I read up on it, and after looking at the trials carried out over the years, felt comfortable trying it,’ she told the Daily Mail.
She found a private clinic and began her new regime, which consisted of 5 sessions a week for 6-8 weeks. During each 30-minute treatment, Sue sat in a chair while a magnetic coil was held against her head. Up to 3,000 magnetic pulses were applied to her brain for a few seconds at a time, followed by a break of a few seconds.
Although the positive affects from the treatment have been very gradual, Sue says that it has already changed her life.
‘I just found that I started to have hope and confidence.’
Within three months of finishing the course, Sue was able to go back to her job in medicine, and is now working with elderly patients with psychiatric problems.
“There’s no comparison with what I was like before,” says Sue. “I was very, very scared of doing anything because I always felt like it would go wrong. I had lots of hopeless feelings, and although I never planned it, I had thoughts about suicide. I never, ever thought I’d go back to work. I had tried many times, but would get ill again before I could sort everything out. I think it’s pretty miraculous that this has happened.”
More Applications of rTMS
At the end of a year-long study of more than 200 patients, 68 per cent reported a reduction in symptoms, while 45 per cent were in complete remission.
And, in July, researchers at Harvard Medical School published a study testing the treatment against a placebo that showed it had ‘immediate’ effects on mood in people with depression. It is already used to treat conditions including epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
rTMS is now being used to treat anorexia, a serious disorder which affects 1 out of every 150 women. Only 46% of people suffering from anorexia make a full recovery. Typical anorexia interventions include anti-depressants and talking therapies. Now a trial is under way at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry to see if rTMS may help —and initial results are encouraging.
Stephanie, 24, battled anorexia since she was 13. She was one of the first people to try the rTMS in efforts to treat anorexia, and found that over time she began to feel less depressed and more confident that she could get better.
“There’s this idea that people with eating disorders just need tough love — that they need to snap out of it,” says Stephanie. “But it literally felt impossible for me to eat or to keep food down.”
She was a suitable candidate for the trial and had one 20-minute session every day, five days a week, for four weeks. “It’s not painful,” she says. “It just feels like something tapping on your head. Although the illness was still there, I felt strong enough to start fighting it.”
She says her anorexic symptoms have reduced markedly. At one point she would be sick after almost every meal, but since having rTMS she’s gone weeks without vomiting.
Over the past two years, researchers have carried out trials with 60 people suffering from anorexia, comparing a single session of rTMS against a placebo treatment. Preliminary results suggest that after one month and at six months there was a broad improvement in the patients’ anorexic symptoms, anxiety and depression and stress levels.
Dr Jane Morris, consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen, who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, says the new research is ‘exciting,’ but adds there is not enough evidence to say that rTMS works yet.
“Certainly, there seem to be some effects on the brain, but whether these will be meaningful and long lasting and without side-effects is far from proven.”
This is exciting news for the medical world, as more research is conducted we hope to continue to see positive results without any harmful side effects. A none-invasive therapy such as rTMS could be the world’s answer to slowing down the anti-depressant pandemic which is currently spreading at a frightening pace. Perhaps this therapy could be just the right ‘boost’ for people who suffer from extreme brain imbalances.
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