Treating depression without side effects could be the beginning of a new era, and not many hospitals offer the option to patients.
But in February, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center began offering a treatment which helps to relieve symptoms of depression without the side effects normally associated with medications.
The treatment, which was first tested on a human brain in 1985, involves placing magnets on the scalp of the patient and creating small electrical currents on the surface of the brain, said Dr. James Young, medical director of OSU Harding Hospital.
People with depression have an unequal balance of activity in various parts of their brain, Young said, which is what the treatment, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is intended to target.
“What it’s basically doing is bringing these different circuits in different parts of the brain into more of a balance and the end result of that is that in can cause someone’s need to improve if they’re depressed,” he said.
Only four patients are in the process of receiving TMS at the Medical Center at this point, Young said, and the overall effects of the treatment on each patient have yet to be determined.
“We’re not done yet, so we don’t really know exactly (until) at the end of their treatment course if the ones who haven’t had benefits yet are ultimately going to show improvement,” Young said. “But so far the people that we’re doing have all tolerated the treatment pretty well.”
According to 10TV, patients undergo treatment for about 40 minutes, five days a week for roughly a month.
In order to be evaluated for potential benefit of the procedure, a patient must have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and failed a trial of at least one antidepressant when administered and duration in the current depressive episode, said Mollie Gardner, TMS coordinator.
Gardner also said the Medical Center is only treating adults between the ages of 22 and 70 for now.
While TMS is known for having no systemic side effects, there is still some risk involved. In extremely rare conditions, patients could have seizures as a result of the treatment, but generally there is just minimal discomfort during the procedure, Young said.
“When we’re doing this, we’re actually just affecting the part of the brain that we want to affect and not the rest of the body,” he said. “So it doesn’t have the same kind of stomach side effects that you can have with medicine.”
While the FDA has only approved TMS as a treatment for depression, Young said, it could also potentially be used to help with tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing noise in the ear, schizophrenia and other issues related to mental health in the future.
“Personally, I think it’s exciting,” he said. “I think it’s the beginning of a new era in treating psychiatric problems.”
Alexa McGuire, a second-year student in neuroscience, said that after learning about TMS in a class, she approves of the treatment based on what it can accomplish.
“I am actually really favorable about it because with depression, antidepressants have a lot of really negative side effects that people don’t like and there’s kind of a stigma that comes along with being on antidepressants,” McGuire said. “It’s really favorable from a science perspective I think and from a personal perspective really.”