Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
One of the latest treatments for depression and other brain disorders, transcranial magnetic stimulation is currently having worldwide trials.
What Is It?
It is a non-invasive treatment that stimulates the brain using magnetic stimulation. Although TMS has been around since the late 80's it isn't very well known. The device uses electro-magnetic induction coils to create magnetic pulses that stimulate the brain tissue. Up to now the standard TMS method used works at a superficial level in the brain, only penetrating to a depth of 1.5cm in the cortical areas of the brain. Although it has been useful in treating certain disorders the effects are limited especially when treating depression disorders. This is because the limbic system, which affects mood, is only indirectly affected.
A new type of TMS called Deep TMS which stimulates neurons deep into the brain and can affect almost any brain structure has transformed the treatment of depression and other brain disorders. The treatment helmet fits over the patient's head and administers short bursts of magnetic pulses to deep within the brain. The treatment session works on a cycle of a few seconds of pulses with a longer pause between pulses e.g. 5 seconds of magnetism with a pause of e.g. 20 seconds. The length of the treatment session varies according to the disorder being treated but is typically for about 15 minutes. The exact dose and number of sessions required for each brain disorders is one of the main things that these treatment trials are investigating.
One test subject who suffers from treatment resistant bipolar disorder (manic depression) had daily treatments five days a week for a month. He said that all he felt at the time was a mild tightening of the face while the treatment was underway. He could also hear the pulsating buzzing noise of the machine. The whole process took about 30 minutes altogether, with the first 10 -15 minutes to position the helmet in the correct place followed by 15 minutes of the Deep TMS treatment. This required no anesthetic or other medication. Throughout the TMS treatment he continued to take his prescribed psychiatric medicine and began to notice a benefit towards the end of the treatment. As a result of the treatment he remained depression free and had no need of pain killers or tranquillizers for over 5 months. He would be very happy to have more treatment if it was available.
Unlike ECT there appears to be no noticeable side effects from Deep TMS apart from making people smarter, at least temporarily. In fact there are researchers in Australia who are looking at the effect on creative people using standard TMS to stimulate their creativity and intelligence while wearing the TMS helmet.
There are almost 300 TMS treatment trials all over the world with about 30 of them currently trialing Deep TMS. Researchers are particularly interested in working out the most effective dose, length and frequency of treatment for each type of brain disorder.
Not Only Depression
Deep TMS is also being trialed for a variety of other conditions like schizophrenia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, anxiety, eating disorders, autism, post traumatic stress disorder, as well as Tourette's syndrome, and stroke rehabilitation. The researchers are even looking at whether it can help people with various types of addictions -from gambling to cocaine.