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Magnetic stimulation may be as effective as electroconvulsive therapy in treating severe depression

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, which delivers brief but intense magnetic pulses to the brain, may be as effective as traditional electroconvulsive therapy in treating severe depression, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago study.

That's good news, said Dr. Philip Janicak, medical director of UIC's Psychiatric Clinical Research Center and head of the clinical trial, because rTMS appears to produce fewer harmful side effects than electroconvulsive therapy, better known as shock treatment.

The preliminary results of the UIC trial will be published in a forthcoming issue of Biological Psychiatry. An abstract of the paper is currently available online at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/biopsych.

In rTMS, a physician uses a hand-held wire coil to produce a controlled, rapidly fluctuating magnetic field with a strength of 1.5 to 2 Tesla, about the same strength used in magnetic resonance imaging but more focused. The coil is placed over the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain behind the forehead that in depressed patients typically shows abnormal electrical activity and decreased blood flow. The magnetic pulses pass through the skull into this targeted area. The procedure lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, during which about 1,000 stimulations occur.

Compared with electroconvulsive therapy, which works by inducing a seizure, rTMS is relatively benign, according to Janicak. Sedation is not required, and patients do not appear to experience deterioration in memory or cognition, standard side effects of shock treatment. However, there is a very small risk of an inadvertent seizure.

"Patients might feel their facial muscles contract at the time of treatment and may have a mild headache afterward, but that's all," Janicak said.

A total of 25 patients with either bipolar depression (also known as manic depression) or unipolar d
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Contact: Sharon Butler
sbutler@uic.edu
312-355-2522
University of Illinois at Chicago
29-Jan-2002


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