Tuesday, September 05, 2006

TO READ: Transcranial magnetic stimulation -- a new option
I've been feeling pretty down lately. You know... lousy mood, feelings of dread, hard to start anything, weird thoughts flitting around. We all know our own brand of misery when our symptoms really kick in. It's discouraging when all those pills I swallow every day aren't doing their job, but I'm fortunate I've got a secret ally these days too.

For the last year and a half or so, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS or rTMS for "repetitive" TMS) has worked wonders for me when depression descends. Every three or four months, my neurochemistry changes and, no matter how well my life is going, I get depressed. But these days, a five-minute-a-day treatment for four weeks, which applies a strong, pulsing magnet to the right side of my skull, breaks up the dysfunctional feelings and thoughts. For me, it's as effective as ECT, but easier -- no anesthesia, no grogginess, no driving restrictions or memory loss.

TMS is still in its investigational stage, not yet FDA approved, so it's only available to certain patients at certain research sites. I'm lucky enough to have gotten in on the ground floor at Stanford (since I'm such a good customer). The treatment is done in an office. After carefully measuring the way my thumb twitches when my head is magnetically stimulated at different sites, the proper treatment location can be mapped on my skull. The doctor holds against the side of my head a plastic "wand" device which is connected to a computer and a machine that generates a precise magnetic field. The wand clicks as it sends 60 one-second magnetic pulses to a specific area of my brain, stimulating activity in that region. After three minutes' rest, we do another 60 seconds, and I can go home. Sometimes I have a moderate, but short-lived headache.

I get plenty of driving in going to Stanford five days a week for four weeks, but it's definitely worth it to me. After two weeks, I'm usually improving; after four I'm nearly back to baseline. I'm told TMS seems to help about half of those who try it for either unipolar depression or bipolar depression. Like so much in psychiatric treatments, the detailed mechanism of action isn't known. But I'm very grateful it works for me. Hopefully it will be more widely available soon and everyone will have one more treatment option to consider.

1 comment:

PMM said...

I'm very thankful that the treatment helps you. It is so wonderful that science continues to explore new treatments to give hope to people when they think that there is nothing to be hopeful about. Thank you for sharing this.