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Using Electromagnetic Waves to Fight Depression


People suffering from depression are finding help when electromagnetic waves enter their brains.

Mental health experts estimate that depression affects more than 120 million people worldwide. It severely affects the person’s quality of life and, in extreme cases, can lead to suicide.

Anti-depressant medicines have been shown as an effective treatment for many patients. But the drugs are unable to help some people with the disorder.

For such persons, doctors may suggest deep transcranial magnetic stimulation, or DTMS for short.

In this treatment, patients wear a helmet — a large hard hat on their head. The helmet is connected to a machine.

An electric coil in the helmet sends out regular pulses of electromagnetic energy. These beating sounds produce changes in the brain area responsible for the disorder.

In the treatment room, patient Wayne Sarles says he felt an improvement after four weeks of DTMS.

“Since I started this treatment I’ve only had one cycle of deep depression and that’s uncharacteristic for this time frame so I’m very relieved.

The first results are felt in about five days. Wagdi Attia is a mental health expert. He uses this treatment on his patients.

“In three to four days later they said ‘yes, I’m out of it. Yes, I am more energized. Yes, I sleep better and could function. I can go out I have a good relationship with my husband or my wife.’”

Electromagnetic brain stimulation is not new. It was first used to treat depression over 30 years ago. Now, a new generation of wiring can direct the energy on one part of the brain. DTMS starts with daily 20-minute-long treatments for 20 to 30 days. The patient then returns for treatment two to three times a week for several weeks.

The only side effect is sometimes minor head pain.

Aaron Tendler is the chief medical officer of Brainsway, the company that makes the machine. He told VOA on Skype that it is hard to say how long the effects of DTMS last.

“We do know that if a person continues maintenance, meaning if a person gets better from TMS and then continues some form of maintenance, meaning twice a week for 3 months, they’ll more than likely stay better.”

DTMS is being used in Europe to treat both depression and other conditions. Patients there are getting treated for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. And DTMS is even being used to help some Europeans stop smoking.

But in the United States, the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved it only for the treatment of drug-resistant depression. But clinical tests are continuing on other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both of the disorders, like depression, can get in the way of a person working and getting along with people.

I’m Anne Ball.

George Putic reported this story for VOANews.com. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

transcranial – adj. passing through the skull

stimulation – n. the act of exciting to activity or growth

coil – n. a number of turns of wire wound around a core center to create a magnetic field for an electromagnet

regular – adj. happening at the same time in the same way

uncharacteristic – adj. not typical or usual

relieved – adj. feeling relaxed and happy because something difficult has stopped

obsessive-compulsive disorder – n. an anxiety disorder when a person has thoughts or actions over and over again that cause distress or interfere with normal daily living

post-traumatic stress disorder – n. a mental condition that can affect a person who has had a very shocking or difficult experience

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