A treatment for major depression that uses intense magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain, previously shown to reduce acute symptoms for brief periods, appears to work over the longer term when teamed with antidepressants, researchers report.
“We wanted to address the question of whether the benefit of TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] can be sustained over a reasonable time,” said study leader Dr. Philip Janicak, a professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Based on this trial, the answer is yes.”
While the study is too small to be definitive, “it indicates that we can maintain the benefit of TMS over six months, and do it safely — there were no further risks associated with the use of TMS in combination with antidepressant drugs,” said Janicak.
The study was published in the October issue of Brain Stimulation.
Researchers randomly assigned 301 people diagnosed with major depression to either real or “sham” magnet therapy for six weeks. The sham treatment felt similar to the real one, but delivered very little of the pulse intensity of the real treatment.
The 142 people who received and responded to the real therapy then entered a 21-day transition phase. During this time, they were tapered off TMS and started on antidepressant medication, a standard treatment to prevent relapse.