In the hopes of finding relief from their depression, many people seek information about deep brain stimulation depression treatment. Deep brain stimulation (DBS), like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), is a form of neurostimulation. DBS is more commonly used to treat conditions related to motor function, such as Parkinson’s Disease or epilepsy, but has recently been tested in also treating depression. Both DBS and TMS use innovative, modern technology with the goal of improving how our brain functions.
What’s the Difference Between TMS and Deep Brain Stimulation?
TMS uses noninvasive magnetic stimulation to safely activate and strengthen the brain’s communication channels. Deep brain stimulation, on the other hand, is a surgical procedure where electrodes are planted directly onto the brain. Patients are given an external remote that allows them to control the frequency of the electrical pulses, similar to a pacemaker. These electrical pulses are used to help regulate brain activity.
How Are Deep Brain Stimulation and TMS Similar?
Although technically very different procedures, both deep brain stimulation and TMS have the same overall goal: to change and improve the way our brains talk to our cells and muscles. This goal is accomplished by stimulating and strengthening our brain’s communication pathways.
What Is Deep Brain Stimulation Used For?
Deep brain stimulation has been used regularly, and is FDA approved, for a number of conditions. These treatments are mostly related to muscle disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease, essential tremor, and epilepsy. DBS is also FDA approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, DBS has been tested as a potential treatment for other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, addiction, and depression.
Does a Deep Brain Stimulation Depression Treatment Exist?
A recent report from a study at Emory University announced that deep brain stimulation, like TMS, is an effective option for patients with treatment resistant depression. This means that even though the participants in this study had not responded to other treatments, such as antidepressants, DBS gave them measurable, long-lasting benefits.
This study lasted eight years and involved twenty-eight people, the majority of whom experienced relief from their depression symptoms in both the short- and long-term. The study was led by Dr. Helen S. Mayberg, a neurology professor and the founding director of the Nash Family Center for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics.
“Given that patients with treatment-resistant depression are highly susceptible to recurrent depressive episodes,” said Dr. Mayberg, “the ability of DBS to support long-term maintenance of an antidepressant response and prevention of relapse is a treatment advance that can mean the difference between getting on with your life or always looking over your shoulder for your next debilitating depressive episode.”
However, although the report on this study sounds promising, the reality is far more complicated. As detailed by an article in The Atlantic, Dr. Mayberg’s study is less than ideal for several reasons.
The first reason is that this report gathers data not just from one study, but from several studies. This includes one study that was officially cancelled by its funders, yet Dr. Mayberg continued to collect data from this study. In other words, patients continued to report back to Dr. Mayberg about their improvements even though the study had been cancelled. The results of the study could be considered self-selected and therefore inaccurate.
Another reason that the study might present skewed results is that the participants of the study were not treated for their depression with only DBS. Dr. Mayberg offered her patients comprehensive and individualized treatment plans, ranging from psychotherapy, occupational therapy, and assistance with social services.
As we have discussed previously, a comprehensive approach is often needed to treat depression, be it a form of therapy or simply the support of your loved ones. That Dr. Mayberg offered her patients personalized, robust treatment plans does not make her a bad doctor. It does, however, put into question the results of this particular study. Since Dr. Mayberg’s patients were treated by not just DBS, there were many other treatment options that could have helped the participants’ depression.
Since Dr. Mayberg’s study could have been compromised by a number of factors, the results from this study are ultimately inconclusive. Especially since DBS involves brain surgery and the associated risks of such an invasive procedure, larger studies with more participants and less variables will need to be conducted to more definitively determine its efficacy. DBS is not yet an FDA approved option for people who are depressed and should not, at least at this time, be considered as a reliable treatment plan for the vast majority of people with depression.
Can TMS Help My Depression?
Unlike DBS, TMS is FDA approved for depression. In addition, TMS has proven to be very effective and safe since it has been in clinical use for over a decade. To learn more about if TMS might be able to help you, visit our FAQ page or contact us today.