Strong Magnetic Fields Aid Severe Depression

Painless stimulation for a painful
illness: depression
© Bonn University

Nowadays, depression is seen as amenable to treatment: with psychotherapy or medication most patients affected can be assisted out of their depressive phase. About five per cent of all patients, however, fall into such profound depression that they do not respond to these methods.

"In the severest cases of depression electro-shock therapy is nowadays still an important therapeutic option,” the head of the Bonn Psychiatric Clinic, Professor Wolfgang Maier, emphasises.

The type of electro-shock now used is regarded as a form of therapy which is well tolerated by patients. "As a rule, this impairment of memory does gradually recede, but understandably it is often experienced by patients as annoying,” Bonn lecturer Dr. Michael Wagner says. The reason is that the flow of electricity is not precise enough, also hitting the hippocampus.

This is why recently a different therapy has come to the fore which has few side-effects: in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) the doctors place a coil on the patient's forehead. For several minutes this produces a strong pulsating magnetic field which in turn produces a flow of electrical current. However, this is so weak that it does not trigger an epileptic attack. The patient remains fully conscious during the treatment.

The Bonn researchers have treated a total of 30 patients suffering from severe depression either with electro-shock or magnetic stimulation. Both methods were roughly equally effective: every second patient experienced a marked alleviation of their depression a week after their stint of therapy.

The patients who had been treated with magnetic stimulation later did as well as or even better than before therapy. By contrast, the patients taking part in electro-shock suffered memory loss, psychologist Svenja Schulze-Rauschenbach confirmed. "TMS is just a new therapeutic tool which can't help in all cases of depression,' adds Wagner, cautioning against excessively high expectations.; Source: University of Bonn