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Health Team

Magnets used to treat depression

Posted June 21, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated June 21, 2010 7:48 p.m. EDT

A new treatment for depression uses magnets to stimulate brain activity.

“It just feels like someone is tapping your head,” patient Ari said.

Ari, who asked that her last name not be used, has battled depression for 10 years. When medication was not enough, Ari tried Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS.

During the treatment, an electromagnet on the scalp sends thousands of small electrical pulses which stimulate brain cells or neurons to fire or activate.

“When people are depressed, this part of the brain is under active, it has a lower blood flow and metabolism,” said Dr. Sarah Lisanby, of Columbia University Medical Center.

TMS is still very new. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only recently cleared the device to treat depression.

But a new study shows it’s wiping away the symptoms for many patients with very few side effects. The most common side effects were headache or scalp discomfort where the stimulation was being applied.

TMS costs between $300 and $500 a session and is not covered by insurance.

Ari said the treatment is worth the money.

“It reinvigorated me. It made me feel as if there was a reason to get up and do what I do each day,” she said.