Magnet therapy shows promise for severe depression
March 20, 1998
One patient, Ruth Wright, described the treatment, "like a tapping on my skull."
Web posted at: 2:05 p.m. EDT (1405 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- An experimental treatment for severe depression, in which powerful magnets are applied to patients' heads, is showing signs of success, a medical journal reports.
Emory University researchers report in the journal
Psychiatric Annals that more than half of the patients
treated improved with no serious side effects.
Depression affects 37 million Americans. It is estimated one
in four women and one in 10 men suffer from depression.
In the experimental treatment, doctors use a powerful
electromagnet to stimulate a specific area of the brain. It
seems to work best in the left front portion of the brain,
believed to be underactive in people with depression. The
treatment lasts only about five minutes.
"The electromagnet induces electric current in the brain and
we know that that causes brain cells to fire, to become
active, to do things, to kick out brain chemicals which are
called neurotransmitters," said Dr. Charles Epstein of Emory
ECT is another treatment used on people with severe depression
While the magnetic therapy is being studied it is only
available for people with severe depression, said Dr. William
McDonald of Emory University.
"The people that we've treated have far and away been very ill people. These are people who have otherwise gotten ECT (electro convulsive therapy)," he said. ECT is a controversial treatment, usually tried as a last resort, in which electric pulses cause a seizure,.
One patient, Ruth Wright tried ECT but suffered memory loss.
She also tried anti-depressants, but they didn't work, so she
turned to magnetic therapy. She's had it for a year and said
she's much improved, even happy.
"Situations which would have thrown me a year ago, I can
handle now with some degree of reasonable behavior," said
The treatment is experimental and the long-term effects are
unknown; researchers say seizures are a possibility. As with
other treatments, it is not unusual for patients to relapse
once treatment ends. The researchers aren't sure yet if it
will help people with mild depression.
Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.