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Magnetic treatment helps fight depression

September 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
For many people battling depression, drugs and therapy just don't help. But scientists at UCLA have another option -- it's a magnetic treatment that's giving many people hope of winning the war against depression.George Porter is trying a new unique procedure to treat his depression.

It got so bad in the past seven years, at times he couldn't work. He felt isolated.

"It caused some distancing from my family sometimes," said Porter. "I wasn't as accessible to my wife and to my children as I would like to be."

George tried everything from psycho-therapy to dozens of anti-depressants. Doctors say about two-thirds of people depression are resistant to current therapies.

A new device, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is used at UCLA's Semel Institute. It creates an electrical current that stimulates neurons in key mood regulating areas of the brain.

"Our best theory is that we are stimulating parts of the brain that tend to be under active when a person is depressed," said Dr. Ian Cook from UCLA.

The electrical field makes the muscle twitch. That's the tapping sensation patients feel.

"The best description is it feels like a woodpecker with OCD tapping on your head," said Porter.

No recovery time is needed and patients remain fully awake for the 45 minute session. Although there is a rare risk of seizure, the most common side effect is a headache.

"Because there is no medication that goes everywhere in the body there aren't systemic sorts of side effects," said Dr. Cook.

After six weeks TMS sessions, George says he felt a change he couldn't get with traditional therapy.

"I've been in remission for the last month or so and have been back at work full time," said Porter.

Doctors say the positive effects should be long lasting. Patients can get maintenance sessions if needed.

The average cost is about $9,000, but George says his insurance covered it. UCLA is offering a clinical trial in which some patients can get TMS at no cost.

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