Current antidepressant therapies are not beneficial for at least a third of depressed individuals, leaving many with a lack of adequate treatment options.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive technique that excites neurons in the brain by magnetic pulses introduced through the scalp, has previously been identified as a potential new treatment for depression but prior, smaller studies have shown conflicting results. This new study, published in the December 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, now shares its findings.
O’Reardon and colleagues present the results from the first large scale, multi-center, double-blind, sham-controlled study of TMS as a treatment for people with depression who had not responded to prior antidepressants and who were not taking antidepressant medications during the study. After 4-6 weeks of active or sham TMS, response and remission rates with active TMS were approximately twice those of sham. This study was also associated with a low dropout rate, due to generally mild side effects, indicating that the treatment was well-tolerated by patients.
Dr. O’Reardon, the corresponding author on this project and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, explains, "These results indicate that TMS provides a novel and attractive treatment option for patients with major depression who have not responded to conventional antidepressant medications.” John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, highlights the significance of this article’s findings: “This study provides new support for the efficacy of TMS as a ‘stand alone’ treatment for depression. This finding could be particularly important for patients who do not tolerate antidepressant medications, for whom they are not safe, or who have not benefited from other alternative treatments.”
Dr. O’Reardon adds, “As indicated by recent large scale, government-sponsored, studies of existing treatment options for major depression conducted by the National Institute of Health (the STAR-D reports), there is a great need to develop new effective treatments for patients, especially those not benefiting from first line interventions. The results of this study indicate that TMS offers new hope to patients in this regard.”
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