Magnetic stimulation is providing relief from severe depression after only three treatments, providing an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy for seriously ill patients.
The finding by researchers at The Alfred hospital means the treatment can now be offered to patients needing rapidly effective treatment, for example those who are suicidal or refusing to eat or drink.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves applying a strong magnetic field to particular areas of the brain, causing neurons to fire and strengthening connections with other areas of the brain.
A further three sessions are needed over the next two weeks to consolidate gains.
Professor Fitzgerald said pilot studies of about 20 patients showed the accelerated program was providing substantial relief from severe depression in about 30 to 40 per cent of cases.
This response rate was similar to the standard program of daily treatments over at least a month.
Researchers are now studying the effect of the accelerated treatment program in a larger group of patients but say initial findings are promising.
”A major barrier to the utilisation of transcranial magnetic stimulation has been the relatively slow rate of response to treatment,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
”The therapy has not been considered appropriate for acutely suicidal patients [who] currently undergo electroconvulsive therapy, as this is the most rapidly acting antidepressant treatment.”
In some cases magnetic stimulation has relieved symptoms for patients who have not benefited from ECT, which carries a risk of memory-related side-effects.
Professor Fitzgerald said patients successfully treated with transcranial magnetic stimulation had in some cases experienced long periods of severe depression.
”It can mean complete resolution of their symptoms so they are able to get back on with their lives and return to work or study,” he said.
One of the patients who has benefited from the accelerated regime is Lynn Ansell, who sought treatment during a difficult period last year.
”We lost our dog and things weren’t going too crash hot,” she said.
”You feel really low, you drag yourself out of bed and then when you’ve had breakfast you feel like going back to bed.”
Mrs Ansell said she felt better after a single treatment with magnetic stimulation ”and after three days I felt terrific. It was an absolute answer to prayer for me.”
Anyone wanting to be involved in the accelerated treatment can phone the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Centre on 9076 6595.
This article first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 June, 2014.