Stimulating News for Depression Sufferers

TMS offers non-invasive treatment via magnetic pulses

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) might sound like a procedure featured in a 1950s, science-fiction B-movie, but this exciting new development in depression treatment may end up saving lives.

TMS therapy, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center, offers recipients a non-invasive alternative to drug therapy for the treatment of major depression. The innovative therapy delivers magnetic field pulses – similar to those administered during an MRI imaging scan – to a region of the brain associated with depression, the left prefrontal cortex. (Major depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness with symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy once-pleasurable activities.)

Principal investigator of the study and professor of psychiatry Dr. Philip G. Janicak said RU Medical Center’s recent analysis offers “the only prospective, maintenance, follow-up study” that looks at the durability of acute TMS benefit in patients with major depression.

Some 301 patients suffering from major depression were randomly assigned to receive TMS or a phony version of the therapy during the six-week trial.  A total of 142 patients who received active TMS therapy entered a three-week, transition phase, and 121 of these patients completed this phase without relapse.  That’s major news for major depression sufferers, offering a glimpse of hope in a world often clouded by thoughts of despair or worthlessness.

We’ve all felt gloomy at times. What makes major depression such a debilitating condition is its refusal to leave. The sad feelings stick around for longer than two weeks and interfere with daily functions, like sleeping and eating.   

Antidepressant medications like Prozac and Zoloft coupled with behavioral therapy have resulted in promising results for some people with major depression.  Those for whom medication hasn’t worked, TMS may just be the answer.

“The results of the follow-up study further support TMS as a viable treatment option for patients with major depression who have not responded to conventional antidepressant medications,” Janicak said. He added that, after acute response to TMS, “a standardized regimen of antidepressant medication maintained the acute benefit in the majority of patients over a six-month period.”

The RU study is too small to be considered definitive, but indicates the therapy can be sustained over a reasonable time. TMS, a 40-minute outpatient procedure, is administered daily for four-to-six weeks.

But if TMS still sounds a little too novel and depression remains a burden despite attempts to alleviate the disorder with medication, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Symbyax (normally prescribed for patients with bipolar disorder) for treatment-resistant depression. The drug is prescribed to adults after two previous medications have failed to work.

As with any medication, it’s essential to know any adverse reactions you might develop while taking it. Symbyax can cause side-effects including headache, increased thirst, seizures and flu-like symptoms, among others.

So with the recent TMS findings and approval of Symbyax, the future of treatment-resistant depression is looking a little less… well, depressing.  

Review Date: 
October 19, 2010