Stimulating Your Brain For Three Minutes Might Ease Your Depression

Previous treatments took much longer, and required many more sessions.

Young woman in psychotherapy session
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

Previous treatments took much longer, and required many more sessions.

The Food and Drug Administration believes that depression could respond to fewer and faster treatments of something known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, a noninvasive form of brain stimulation.

MagVenture, the company responsible for manufacturing the MagVita repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy system, reported in a news release that the FDA approved its treatment that only lasts three minutes. Sessions using other treatments can last up to 37 minutes, with 20 to 30 sessions needed in total.

Depression is a stubborn disease that sometimes responds to drugs, talk therapy or a combination of the two. But sometimes it doesn’t. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people aged 15 to 44, according to data from Harvard Medical School.

Harvard Medical School information states that approximately two-thirds of people with depression don’t respond to the first antidepressant they try. After two months of treatment with antidepressants, many people will still experience symptoms, and after that point, each subsequent medication is less likely to help than the previous ones.

It may seem that “shock therapy” is a thing of the past, but, surprisingly, not for depression. For the past several decades, the primary treatment for depression that didn’t respond to other treatments has been electroconvulsive therapy — or what many people call “shock therapy.” ECT has side effects though, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, they can be serious: confusion, nausea and aches, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and even retrograde amnesia.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation was first approved in 2008 for treatment-resistive major depressive disorder, according to the International Neuromodulation Society. Unlike ECT, TMS does not require anesthesia. MagVenture’s therapy uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the part of the brain controlling mood. The newly approved therapy uses theta burst stimulation. In April, the Lancet published a paper about the effectiveness of theta burst stimulation. In this new modality, magnetic pulses are still used, but are delivered in a different way.

“We have named it ‘Express TMS®’ because that’s what it is: a treatment which is just as safe and effective for the treatment of depression as conventional TMS, only much, much faster. We are happy and proud to be the first in the U.S. to receive an FDA clearance for this revolutionary treatment which is backed up by substantial scientific evidence,” said MagVenture Vice President of Sales Kerry Rome, in the news release. “Our current treatment system, MagVenture TMS Therapy, can easily be upgraded with the new Express TMS option. This will enable our many customers to treat far more patients per day without having to invest in another TMS device. For people needing treatment, this will also be a huge benefit, as treatment will now take up less of their time.”