Depression symptoms eased within a week with TMS therapy: new study
Using magnets to treat depression sounds like a mad scientist’s plan, but it actually works.
The treatment — known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation — is backed by years of research and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
It is a completely non-invasive treatment that delivers magnetic pulses that stimulate neurons in the part of the brain responsible for controlling mood and depression.
A new UCLA study found that a specific type of TMS is effective in patients with major depression — even after multiple courses of antidepressant medications have failed.
UCLA’s treatment, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), works so quickly that it can relieve depression symptoms within days.
“What is most exciting is that these patients generally begin to report improvement within a week of starting treatment,” Dr. Michael Leuchter of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior said in a press release.
Some insurance plans will cover this procedure.
What is TMS?
TMS is a treatment that uses a magnetic coil or paddle to create powerful magnetic fields that modify electrical activity in the brain.
The procedure was first developed in 1985, and is now used for a range of mental health and brain-related conditions, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Depending on the type of treatment, the magnetic coil may be placed directly on the scalp, or the patient may wear a type of helmet with magnetic coils attached to it.
It’s not entirely clear to medical researchers how TMS works, but it is thought to stimulate areas of the brain whose activity has decreased during depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.
This procedure is non-surgical and does not involve any surgery, injections or anesthesia. They are also generally painless, apart from some discomfort from wearing a magnetic coil and from the clicking sound the magnetic coil makes.
TMS for depression
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of TMS to treat major depressive disorder in 2008. This treatment is generally used after other treatments, such as antidepressant medications, have failed to relieve symptoms of depression.
In addition to depression, the FDA has approved the use of TMS to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), migraines, and for smoking cessation.
In addition to these health concerns, TMS has also been used to treat drug and alcohol addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, eating disorders, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and complications caused by stroke.
In 2016, Connecticut resident Michelle Pagano told The Post that she “felt amazing” to laugh for the first time in months after receiving TMS treatment for depression.
“I was able to reprogram myself in less than six months (after living with depression, anxiety and grief for over 20 years), Pagano said, adding that she owes the procedure “more than I can ever repay.”
For the new study, researchers at the UCLA Semel Institute reviewed the outcomes of hundreds of patients treated at UCLA Health from 2009 to 2022 with rTMS therapy.
Most rTMS patients received 20- to 30-minute therapy sessions five days a week for six to eight weeks.
The results of the study, published this week in the journal Psychiatry Research, found that 54% of patients had at least a 50% improvement in depression symptoms.
“We have a unique approach to treating rTMS at UCLA,” said Leuchter, lead author of the study. “In our ‘micro TMS’ model, patients see a psychiatrist for every treatment and we measure symptoms weekly.”
Early improvements reported within five or 10 treatments predicted how well a patient would respond throughout treatment.
This could help doctors decide whether or when to adjust their approach to each individual patient, Leuchter said.