According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in 10 Americans take antidepressants. However, 20 – 40 percent of those individuals are unable to tolerate the side effects or do not benefit from the antidepressants.
Presented at the 167th American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in New York City, scientists have offered a substitute for depression treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. TMS was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008 to treat depression.
A strong magnet is applied on the front left side of the head, and magnetic pulses stimulate the brain’s mood centers, which are under-active while the patient is awake.
Powerful magnets can generate electromagnetic fields that force certain brain cells to fire. The cells release their chemical signals, and this is what is thought to improve mood. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, TMS does not cause seizures.
Led by Dr. Mark Demitrack, the chief medical officer of Neuronetics, Inc. and Dr. Kit Simpson of Medical University of South Carolina, the researchers studied 306 patients with major depressive disorder who were treated with a TMS device called the NeuroStar TMS Therapy®. After one year, 53 percent of patients who received six weeks of daily TMS, which targeted the mood regions of the brain, reported no or mild depression. This is compared to only 38 percent of people on antidepressants who reported the same benefit.
“Until now there has been a lot of research showing its efficacy, but mostly compared to placebo, not other treatments,” said Paul Fitzgerald, a researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who wasn't involved in the study. “It is clearly very safe, better tolerated than medication and now the data seems to suggest that it might be more effective.”
According to Dr. Simpson, TMS therapy would cost about $1,000 per patient per year. Over the next two years, the researchers hope the sessions will be more affordable than drug therapy.