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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Offers New Treatment For Depression

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- To treat depression, people usually take pills.

But how about using magnets?

Dr. Jasbir Kang offers this option to patients who have not responded to antidepressant therapy.

"Their overall ability to function is significantly better," says Dr. Kang, a psychaitrist at St. Clair Hospital.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation -- or TMS -- was FDA approved in 2008 to treat depression.

With TMS, while a patient is awake, a strong magnet is put on the front left side of the head, and magnetic pulses stimulate the brain's mood centers which are under-active.

Powerful magnets can generate electromagnetic fields that cause certain brain cells to fire. The cells release their chemical signals, and this is what is thought to improve mood.

In studies, after six weeks of daily treatment, over half the people getting TMS had only mild or no depression. Only a third of people on medicine had the same effect.

But with either medicine or TMS, Dr. Kang has had better success than that.

"The response rate is generally two thirds of patients, which is generally where the medications are. in my own experience, having done 40-plus patients, our results have been in the 65-70 percent range," he says.

For antidepressants, depending on coverage, the cost could be $30 to $120 a month for years on end. For TMS, patients get a daily treatment five days a week over six weeks. This can cost $7,000 to $10,000, and insurance coverage varies.

"The majority of them have been very pleased," says Dr. Kang about his patients who have tried TMS. "One, they are not experiencing any side effects, two, they are able to cut back or eliminate medication."

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