Electricity for a Depressed Brain

Transcranial direct current stimulation may reduce depression

(RxWiki News) There are many treatments for depression, ranging from medication to intense therapy. For those that have not had success with other treatments there is good news - a new treatment using electricity could help.

The treatment is called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive treatment that is essentially a very small amount of electricity sent through the front of the brain. Additionally, researchers believe that the treatment could have other benefits besides reduction of depression symptoms.

"If traditional treatments are unsuccessful, ask about experimental procedures."

Colleen Loo, M.D., from the University of New South Wales' School of Psychiatry, notes that this is the largest trial of tDCS. Additionally, most of the people involved with the trials had undergone at least 2 other treatments that had been unsuccessful.

"Most of the people who went into this trial had tried at least two other antidepressant treatments and got nowhere. So the results are far more significant than they might initially appear — we weren't dealing with people who were easy to treat," adds Loo.

64 patients suffering from depression participated in the trials. They received tDCS for 20 minutes a day for 3 weeks. An additional 3 weeks of various treatments followed.

The researchers report that patients showed a greater improvement at 6 weeks than 3 weeks - indicating that the treatment may be best applied over and extended time period. Those that benefited from the primary trial were offered weekly ‘booster’ treatments. 85% reported no relapse after 6 months.

The study also suggests that there may be additional benefits from tDCS.

"One participant with a long-standing reading problem said his reading had improved after the trial and others commented that they were able to think more clearly. Another participant with chronic neck pain reported that the pain had disappeared during the trial. We believe these cognitive benefits are another positive aspect of the treatment worthy of investigation," said Loo.

The study was published in the Jan. 2012 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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Review Date: 
March 9, 2012