Could Magnet Treatment Cure Depression?

There's a potential new treatment for depression that is showing promising results in studies and clinical trials, especially for patients who don't respond to traditional therapy.

Transcranial Magnet Stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain involved in mood control and depression. The stimulation seems to change how the brain works, which improves symptoms, although scientists are still trying to understand how this actually happens. They suspect TMS jumpstarts an underactive mood regulating circuitry located in the top left front part of the brain.

TMS is non-invasive, doesn't require surgery or anesthesia, and physicians can perform the procedure in their office, making it an easy, convenient treatment. During TMS, patients receive daily doses of magnetic stimulation for four to six weeks. Each session lasts about 40 minutes.

In early trials, researchers found that TMS was safe and effective for treatment-resistant depression. At four weeks, patients were more likely to respond to treatment and be in remission than study participants who did not receive TMS. By six weeks, TMS patients were twice as likely to be in remission.

TMS has some associated side effects, most commonly headache; scalp discomfort; tingling, spasms, or twitching facial muscles; lightheadness; and discomfort from noise during treatment. Occasionally, TMS causes more serious side effects, such as seizures, mania (especially in patients with Bipolar Disorder), and hearing loss.

Transcranial Magnet Stimulation is one of several types of brain stimulation therapies. They all activate or touch the brain directly using electricity, magnets, or implants.

You've probably heard of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT passes current through the brain while patients are sedated, intentionally causing a brief seizure. Mental health professionals have used this treatment for many years, although it tends to have a less-than-favorable reputation (think One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest). ECT has improved significantly over the years, however.

Deep brain stimulation and Vagus Nerve Stimulation both require a device implanted in the body to deliver electrical pulses. Since it's invasive, it may not be the best choice for many patients.

Magnetic Seizure Therapy blends electrical and magnetic therapies, using magnetic pulses instead of electricity to induce a seizure. This therapy is also new and is still in early testing.

If you suffer from depression that is not responding to traditional treatment, magnetic stimulation might help. Talk to your physician or visit and see if you might be eligible to participate in a clinical trial to test TMS.


"Low Field Magnetic Stimulation Treatment for Bipolar Depression." Web. April 2010.

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Magnetic Stimulation Scores Modest Success as Antidepressant." Press release. Web. 3 May 2010.

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Brain Stimulation Therapies." Web. 17 November 2009.

Busko, Marlene. "Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Effective for Depression in Large Trial." Medscape Medical News. Web. 18 December 2007.

"Magnetic Stimulation Effective For Treatment Resistant Depression." Medical News Today. Web. 23 December 2009.