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Magnetic treatment helps ease depression

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One little jolt of electricity is making a major difference in the treatment of depression.

Major depression is the fourth leading cause of world disability, affecting more than 19 million American adults every year. Therapy is available, but only one-third of those people will get treated fully.

Melissa Schultz enjoys spending time with her two best friends. But at one time, just playing a game of fetch with her dog, Ava, was too much for her to handle.

"You just feel like you're up to your knees in mud," said Schultz.

She felt the first symptoms of depression at just 12 years old. At 33, an accidental sleeping pill overdose landed her in the hospital for several days.

"What we find is that if someone's had one episode of depression, there's a 50 percent chance of it coming back," said Dr. H.J. Schulte, a psychiatrist and addictionologist at the Schulte Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz.

A new, one of its kind treatment is offering hope by zapping the problem away. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat patients, like Steve, who have failed on anti-depression medication.

Steve was diagnosed three years ago after realizing the disease was ruining his life.

"Everything I looked at I just hated, and I wanted nothing more than wish to die, the sooner the better," said Steve.

Sick of medications that didn't work, Steve decided to try something new. TMS works by placing a magnet about the size of a hockey puck over the left front part of the brain. Four seconds of pulses per minute - for 37 minutes a day - of rapid electricity is pulsed to the magnet, creating a cascade of electrochemical changes in the brain that help to heal depression.

"Now, we have a consistent way of finding the right spot of how much energy we give, and over what period of time," said Dr. Schulte.

Patients need to have the treatment five days a week for four to six weeks. The long process didn't stop Steve, who hopes this treatment will help him improve his mood and ease his depression.

TMS is not FDA-approved for bipolar depression. A small percent of those who've tried it have suffered seizures as a result of the treatment.

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