Magnetic therapy for depression

Magnetic therapy for depression

 Electroconvulsive therapy is the last hope for severe depression . However, it can affect memory for weeks after treatment. A gentle alternative seems to be the so-called “transcranial magnetic stimulation”. This is the conclusion doctors and psychologists from the University Hospital in Bonn came to in an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Find out more about magnetic field therapy for depression here.

Conventional treatment for depression

Depression is now considered to be easily treatable: Most of those affected can be helped out of a depressive episode with psychotherapy or medication. However, about five per cent of all patients sink so deeply into a melancholy that they no longer respond to these healing methods. Because depression is one of the most common mental illnesses – every sixth person is affected at least once in their life – that’s a large number.


Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

In these cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the treatment of choice. The patient is anaesthetized. The doctors then run current pulses through his head through two electrodes, triggering an epileptic fit. This changes the brain chemistry in the forehead area, a region that, among other things, regulates, affects and controls attention.

Effective therapy – lousy image

One in two patients who have not previously responded to other treatments is so much better after a few weeks of treatment that they can continue to be treated with medication or psychotherapy. This is why this electroconvulsive therapy is still used today for people with severe depression.

Nevertheless, the public image of this method was very harmful for a long time – not least thanks to the classic film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In it, a psychiatric inmate is “tamed” with ECT treatment for his rebellious behaviour. However, the current form of ECT is well tolerated.


Side effect of ECT: memory problems

However, the treatment can affect memory even weeks later. Because the current flow is not targeted enough, it also hits the hippocampus, the “memory centre” in our brain. Although these memory disorders usually resolve slowly, they are understandably often experienced by patients as disturbing.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

An alternative could be another treatment method with hardly any side effects: With “transcranial magnetic stimulation” (TMS), the doctors place a coil on the patient’s forehead. This generates an intense, pulsating magnetic field for a few minutes, which in turn causes a current to flow in the brain. However, this is so small that it does not trigger an epileptic seizure. The patient experiences the painless treatment in full consciousness.

Study results on magnetic field therapy.

The Bonn doctors treated a total of 30 severely depressed patients with either electroconvulsive therapy or magnetic stimulation. Both methods worked about equally well: One week after the series of treatments, every second patient felt a significant improvement in mood.

“The groups were not randomly assigned, which limits the significance,” says Wagner, who headed the study. “The number of participants is too small to make conclusive statements on effectiveness.” However, other studies also speak for the mood-enhancing effect of magnetic stimulation.


Memory remains unaffected by magnetic stimulation.

Die Patienten, die mit Magnetstimulation behandelt worden waren, schnitten nachher in verschiedenen Gedächtnistests ebenso gut oder gar besser ab als vor der Therapie. Bei den Teilnehmern der EKT-Gruppe verschlechterte sich das Erinnerungsvermögen dagegen, wie die Psychologin Svenja Schulze-Rauschenbach herausfand.

Magnetfeldtherapie als neue Therapieform bei einer Depression

Dennoch: Die Magnetstimulation ist kein Wundermittel, zumal sie – wie die EKT – die Depression nicht dauerhaft besiegt. Die Patienten müssen nachher immer noch mit anderen Methoden weiter behandelt werden. “Die TMS ist nur ein neues therapeutisches Werkzeug, das auch nicht bei allen Depressionen helfen kann”, wehrt sich Michael Wagner denn auch gegen zu hohe Erwartungen.

The effect of the relatively new treatment method against severe depression is only being tested at a few institutions in Germany. However, new devices that could be even more effective are already waving on the horizon. The magnetic field they generate is so strong that it can also trigger an epileptic seizure.

In contrast to ECT, however, the current flow in magnetic therapy is restricted to the “mood region” in the brain – the hippocampus remains unaffected.

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