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Research Review

Magnets Used to Treat Patients With Severe Depression

Murali S. Rao, MD, is telling patients about a new high-tech, non-invasive therapy that uses magnetic waves to treat their conditions.

Known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the treatment delivers a series of electrical pulses to the part of the brain associated with depression and other mood disorders. The pulses generate an electric current in the brain that stimulates neurons to increase the release of more mood-enhancing chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

“The electrical pulses target the nerve cells in the region of the brain called the left prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that regulates our moods,” says Rao, chairman of Loyola’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience services.

A study involving 301 patients that was recently published in the journal Brain Stimulation found TMS to be “an effective, long-term treatment for major depression.”

There is nothing new about the use of electricity to treat depression. For years, a treatment called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—also known as “electric shock treatment”—has been used to induce seizures in anesthetized patients for therapeutic results.

“But since TMS uses an electrical field, not electricity like ECT, there is very little risk of a seizure from the procedure,” Rao says. “The pulses are mild and painless and patients are able to immediately return to normal activities.”

The short-term side effects of TMS are usually minor. Some patients experience tingling in the scalp or twitching of facial muscles. Others experience a headache, which can be relieved by any over-the-counter pain-relief medication.

TMS is FDA approved and is performed on an outpatient basis in a psychiatrist’s office. Patients sit in a device that resembles a comfortable dentist chair. The chair reclines and has a padded headrest. It also has a touch-screen control panel and an electrical magnetic coil that is positioned on a precise spot on the patient’s head.

— Source: Loyola University Health System