Brain Stimulation Shows Immediate Effect on Mood For Individuals With Depression or Bipolar Disorder

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A new study published in the upcoming issue if Biological Psychiatry suggests that low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) may be a breakthrough treatment for individuals with major depressive disorder of bipolar disorder, as those who undergo LFMS showed immediate and substantial mood improvement.

Source: Harvard University/McLean Hospital

Source: Harvard University/McLean Hospital

“LFMS is unlike any current treatment. It uses magnetic fields that are a fraction of the strength but at a higher frequency than the electromagnetic fields used in TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] and ECT [electroconvulsive therapy],” explained first author Michael Rohan, a physicist at McLean Hospital’s Brain Imaging Center and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

ECT and TMS are already known as effective treatments for depression, however they often take longer to have an effect and ECT has been associated with notable negative side effects such as memory loss. Likewise, antidepressants are a trusted treatment for depression, but they typically take four to six weeks to have substantial effects.

“Importantly, LFMS appears to have an immediate effect on mood and thus has the potential to provide relief in emergency situations,” explained Rohan, who first reported the potential use of LFMS to treat depression in a study published in 2004. “In addition to providing quick relief from symptoms, the other exciting piece about LFMS is that no side effects have been observed.”

The study evaluated 63 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 65, all of whom had been diagnsed with either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder and had been on antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications for at least six weeks. Of those volunteers, 34 actively received LFMS from a portable tabletop device designed by Rohan. The other 29 went through the process, but did not actually receive the LFMS treatment.

Each patients was asked to rate their mood before and after the single 20-minute treatment using two commonly-used self-assessment tools. While those who did not receive brain stimulation showd no change, the individuals who received LFMS reported significant improvement in mood.

“We observed immediate improvement in mood following relatively brief exposure to LFMS,” noted Rohan. “Although larger research studies are needed, we think LFMS could be a powerful tool as a rapidly acting treatment for depression, either alone or in combination with medication.”

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