Magnets Fight Depression

April 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
As many as 15 million Americans suffer from clinical depression. Medication and psychiatric therapy help many, but for one-quarter of patients, the decline continues.PHILADELPHIA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Now there's a new option for people struggling to emerge from depression. Steve aspires to be the next great novelist. He's in the process of closing a very long chapter in his life: twenty years of severe depression. Steve tried psychiatry sessions and medications, but continued his fall into despair and darkness.

"For all practical purposes, I was asleep 18 to 20 hours a day," Steve told Ivanhoe.

For the past few months, he's been getting transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS. It was recently cleared by the FDA for treating depression.

A machine delivers a series of quick pulses to a section of the scalp about the size of a quarter. Researchers say the stimulation reactivates parts of the brain that regulate mood.

"The beauty of it is we can do it noninvasively in the doctor's office without needing sedation, with the patient able to resume normal activities immediately" John O'Reardon, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Ivanhoe.

In a study of more than 300 people with major depression, those who had TMS were twice as likely to go into remission or have a good response compared to those who didn't have the magnetic pulses. Doctors say possible side effects can include headaches and a low risk of seizures. Steve noticed a change in his mood after two weeks.

"I came back, and I came back I think far more suddenly than I left," Steve said.

Now he's looking forward to writing the next chapter in his life.

Five percent of patients in the TMS study stopped treatment because of side effects. That's three-times better than the discontinuation rate of standard medications.

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