Depression treatable by electromagnetic therapy: study

Patients suffering from depression may find relief from treatments using electromagnetic stimulation, offering a possible alternative to mood-altering medications, a new study found.

The research, which was released on Monday, tested 190 patients who had previously failed to respond to antidepressant drugs.

Patients were given at least three weeks of magnetic stimulation. Scientists found that the treatment led to remissions for 14 percent of them, and that most remained in remission for several months.

The treatment, known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) offers future hope of a non-drug treatment for depression sufferers, although researchers said additional studies are needed.

"This study should help settle the debate about whether rTMS works for depression," said Mark George of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who led the research team.

"We can now follow up clues suggesting ways to improve its effectiveness, and hopefully further develop a potential new class of stimulation treatments for other brain disorders."

The treatment aims to jump-start the brain's mood-regulating circuitry by jolting the top left front section with an electromagnetic coil emitting 3,000 pulses over a 37-minute session.

Researchers said the treatments can be safely administered in a doctor's office with few side effects, unlike more invasive brain stimulation treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The US National Institute of Mental Health-funded research showed that although the treatment "has not yet lived up to early hopes that it might replace more invasive therapies, this study suggests that the treatment may be effective in at least some treatment-resistant patients," center director Thomas Insel said.

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