New Treatment For Depression Involves Magnetic Currents

By Sammy Caiola
The Sacramento Bee.

SACRAMENTO

Depression lifted from Nick O’Madden’s life like a set of foggy glasses being wiped clean.

Earlier this summer, O’Madden, 31, felt he was living in a distracted haze, sprinkled with nighttime panic attacks. Now, after undergoing an emerging high-tech treatment involving magnetic currents, he said he’s literally seeing the world in a new light.

“Colors are brighter,” said O’Madden, a mental health therapist who lives in Elk Grove, Calif. “Last night, I was looking at the moon, and it just looked clearer and brighter and more beautiful … It’s almost kind of scary to see that at first, it’s so new to me.”

He described the changes from a reclined medical chair at TMS Health Solutions, a treatment center in Sacramento’s Campus Commons area that specializes in transcranial magnetic stimulation. With a metal coil positioned near his forehead, he spoke between bouts of jackhammer-esque pulsing that erupted every 15 seconds during the 50-minute session.

The “train pulses,” as technicians call the strings of sound, are actually the back-and-forth flexing of the metal coil as the device sends out a 2-tesla-strong magnetic current. The coil creates a magnetic field that reaches 2 to 3 centimeters into brain matter to stimulate the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex, the poker chip-sized area responsible for regulating mood, memory and decision-making.

An estimated 7 percent of American adults suffer from clinical depression, which can cause lethargy, indifference, moodiness and other symptoms that interfere with day-to-day functioning. Researchers have found that the prefrontal cortex is often underactive in people diagnosed with the illness.

The TMS technology uses electric currents to excite cell activity in that part of the brain, theoretically helping neurons better communicate with one another and increasing blood flow to the tissue, which promotes healthy brain function. The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the treatment, but for limited use given that it is relatively new.

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