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Magnetic Therapy For Depression: Next Boom?

August 8, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Depressed? Just stop by your local brain-zapping clinic for a little magnetic therapy, and you’ll walk out the door whistling.

Well, not quite. But advocates of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) do envision nationwide chains of clinics, as widespread as the laser eye clinics that seem to inhabit about every other strip mall these days.

Said Bill Leonard, president of TMS NeuroHealth Centers:

We looked at the LASIK model and said, ‘Can we do this with depression? Can we do this with TMS?’

Leonard was quoted in a news story produced by Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post.

TMS NeuroHealth has one clinic so far, in Tysons Corner, Virginia, near Washington, DC. It plans other locations across the country that will accept both physician-referred patients and walk-ins. The latter would be screened by the center’s medical director to make sure they were appropriate candidates for rTMS.

To receive the therapy, a patient sits in a chair while an electromagnetic coil is placed against the head. A machine sends four seconds of magnetic pulses into the brain at 26-second intervals. A session lasts about 40 minutes. Patients report only occasional minor side effects such as headaches and scalp irritation.

Studies have shown that the treatment does work. How effectively remains to be determined. Various research has found the number of of patients who report complete relief from depression ranging from 10 percent to 57 percent.

Antidepressant medications lead to complete relief from symptoms about a third of the time. rTMS is aimed at patients whose depression has resisted such conventional treatments.

The four- to six-week course of treatment costs $6,000 to $12,000. Medicare covers the cost in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, but few private insurers do.

The industry’s pitch basically seems to be: give it a try; what have you got to lose except your depression (and maybe a few thousand dollars)? “The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work,” Leonard said. “We haven’t changed you chemically. We haven’t gone in invasively with surgery.”

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Brain scans may be able to predict which children are at risk for alcohol abuse. See our Facebook page for details.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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