Procedure uses magnetic fields to help treat people battling depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is noninvasive, painless treatment

DETROIT - Since the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, there's been a renewed focus on the battle many people face with depression.

Hope can come in many forms, and Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge took a look at a lesser-known treatment for depression.

A woman who battled depression, who we will call Gina, shared her story with Local 4, though she didn't wanted to be identified.. She said she tried everything from medication to counseling to self-help books, but nothing worked. That's when she turned to a noninvasive treatment that put her on the road to recovery.

"Unfortunately, I did attempt (suicide) once," Gina said. "You get to a place where you're not thinking rational and you think that people would be better off without you."

She said it was an "unbearable physical pain" that wasn't just in her head.

"I turned to alcohol and started drinking a lot," Gina said. "That's what brought me here. I ended up having to go into treatment for it."

She found Dr. Marcus DeCarvalho, a psychiatrist.

"We're talking about a person who could not even get out of bed in the morning," DeCarvalho said. "Significant depression and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, no appetite. She couldn't sleep at all. Also, massive anxiety, racing thoughts."

He thought Gina would be a good candidate for a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. It's a noninvasive, painless procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

While the biology of the treatment isn't completely understood, it's thought that the magnetic pulses might activate regions of the brain that have decreased activity in people with depression.

"Now you have a treatment that you walk in just like you walk into the ER and we go right to the spot and we start treatment right away," DeCarvalho said. "No weight gain, no libido issues, none of that stuff. No nausea, no vomiting."

Some patients reported scalp irritation or headaches, but they usually subsided after the first week. There is a rare risk of seizures.

Gina said her family and friends started to see a difference after two weeks.

"Visiting that past is painful now, but now I smile," Gina said. "I have hope, and now it leveled the playing field, so I have a chance now, and I can do the therapy that I need to do and get back on track."

Gina had 36 TMS treatments, and it was covered by her insurance.

TMS is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression in people age 21 and up. It's currently being studied in patients ages 12 to 20.

TMS is widely available, and it's covered by many insurance plans. To learn more about TMS, click here.

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