Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an emerging treatment for depression and other mental issues. The method works by placing an electromagnetic coil next to the scalp. The coil delivers a magnetic pulse, stimulating the nerve cells in the region of the brain involved with regulating emotions and mood. Recently, Fisher Wallace Laboratories introduced a wearable TMS device; a study the company conducted may show the device has promise in treating depression.
TMS and bipolar depression
In the study, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, patients at New York City’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital with bipolar II depression were randomly divided into two groups. One group received 20 minutes of TMS a day for two weeks; a placebo device was used on the other group for the same time period.
According to a Fisher Wallace press release, the patients who received TMS treatment showed a “significant decrease” in their symptoms. “Today is a milestone in the evolution of wearable technology. Patients who suffer from bipolar depression can start using this device today, and psychiatrists can feel confident about it from a risk benefit perspective,” said Kelly Roman, Fisher Wallace Laboratories CMO in the press release.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that other studies on other TMS devices have been questionable.
A critical look
In 2014, an article appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reporting benefits from Neurnetic’s NeuroStar TMS device. However, the study was not controlled. Additionally, 11 of the article’s 12 authors had ties to device vendors – including Neurnetic – and three of the authors worked for the firm.
Meanwhile, the Cochrane Collaboration, a United Kingdom-based medical information service, conducted a review in 2009 of TMS by looking at 16 studies. In their conclusion, the review’s authors wrote that “the information in this review suggests that there is no strong evidence for benefit from using transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat depression, although the small sample sizes do not exclude the possibility of benefit.”
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has also weighed in on TMS. In 2010, NIMH funded a large clinical trial on TMS. Researchers tested repetitive TMS (rTMS) on nearly 200 patients with major depressive disorder. Some patients received actual rTMS treatment; others received an inactive procedure that imitated the effects of rTMS treatment. Data showed that 14 percent of the patients who received the actual rTMS treatment experienced remission of their depressive symptoms – only 5 percent of the patients who received the placebo treatment showed similar improvement.
After the clinical trial concluded, the patients had the option of entering a second treatment phrase where all patients received rTMS treatment. After that second phase, the remission rate increased to almost 30 percent.
Types of brain stimulation therapy
TMS isn’t the only kind of therapy patients can receive. According to NIMH, there are several other stimulation therapies available to patients:
- Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS): Patients undergoing VNS have a device implanted under their skin which sends electric signals through the vagus nerve, a nerve that carries messages between the brain and the body’s other major organs, including the heart and lungs. The vagus nerve also carries messages to the areas of the brain governing mood and other functions. Originally a treatment for epilepsy, researchers also noticed VNS had a positive effect on the symptoms of depression. Patients usually do not feel any sensations from the device, which is powered by a battery that lasts close to a decade.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): One of the most infamous treatments in medicine – thanks largely to hyperbolic depictions in media – ECT was described as “shock therapy” in earlier decades. Administered by a professional medical team to patients under general anesthesia, ECT uses electrodes to pass an electric current through the patient’s brain. This causes a short seizure which lasts around a minute. During the treatment, the patient’s vital signs are monitored carefully. ECT is usually used to treat severe depression that has resisted other treatment methods.
- Magnetic seizure therapy (MST): A new form of therapy, MST works similarly to ECT. However, research on MST is attempting to reduce some of the cognitive side effects ECT patients occasionally deal with after treatment. NIMH cites studies showing MST had positive effects for patients with major depression and bipolar disorder.
Sovereign Health of California is a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment. We make use of TMS, along with other cutting-edge, effective treatment modalities to ensure our patients have the best possible chance at recovery. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at firstname.lastname@example.org.