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New Depression Treatment Gains Ground in Southern Colorado

By Maddie Garrett | Nov 05, 2015 6:07 PM MST

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A new way to treat major depression without medication is gaining ground right here in southern Colorado. It’s called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy, and uses magnets to stimulate the brain.

The Southern Colorado TMS Center is the first clinic in the Pikes Peak region to offer the treatment. Patient Christine Embree has battled depression her whole life, likely since she was 12 or 13 years old.

“Sometimes I was on more medication, sometimes less. They were changed over a period of time, and they would work for a while, and I could feel it was coming back again,” Embree said.

She said her depression would wax and wane, but she never had long lasting relief with medications. She also suffered some negative side effects.

“Depression is such an insidious situation that it kind of sneaks up on you,” Embree said.

When her therapist recommended she use magnets to treat her depression, Embree said she was skeptical.

“I thought it was a little bizarre,” she said, “a little bit out there.” But after so many years of battling depression, she said she thought it was worth a try.

“It’s almost a day and night difference,” she said of the treatment.

There are currently four types of TMS machines being used by doctors across the country. The Southern Colorado TMS Center uses two, called NeuroStar and Brainsway.

Dr. John Fleming, Board Certified Psychiatrist and Medical Director at the Southern Colorado TMS Center, said the high powered magnetic coil has the same strength as an MRI, but the pulses are very localized.

“We’re not putting magnetic energy through the whole brain, just in a little section,” Fleming said.

The magnetic energy is focused on a part of the brain that controls depressive feelings. The repetitive magnetic pulses stimulate neurons in that area of the brain, creating brain activity that is more similar to a brain without depression.

“If we give magnetic pulses, the impact of that is to turn that region of the brain — which has been turned off — to turn it back on and learn to stay awake,” Fleming said. “What we’re really doing is creating normal nerve impulses inside the brain.”

The pulses feel like tapping, according to patients. The most common side effects are temporary pain or discomfort at the treatment site and localized twitching during therapy.

“I call it a mini jackhammer, because that’s what it sounded like to me,” Embree said.

To start, patients receive the therapy for about 30 minutes, five times a week, for six weeks. Then TMS treatments taper off, with some patients needing booster treatments after nine to 15 months of initial therapy.

Some patients, like Embree, said they felt better after just two weeks of treatment.

Fleming said he is particularly impressed with how long TMS lasts for some patients. His office has used the treatment on 125 patients since opening in 2011. “The overwhelming majority of our patients, still two years out, are still depression free,” he said.

As for safety, the FDA approved TMS therapy for treatment of depression in 2008. The American Psychiatric Association has endorsed the treatment and recommends it for patients who have not responded properly to medication.

“I have been blown away by how effective TMS can be,” Fleming said.

In some cases, patients who receive TMS treatments are able to get off of prescription drugs for depression altogether, Fleming said. However, therapy is still an important part of the treatment, and the Center offers free therapy sessions each week for patients undergoing TMS treatment.

Embree said for the first time in years, she’s starting to lower her anti-depressant medications and she feels like the fog of depression seems to be lifting for longer periods of time than ever before.

“I think the most noticeable thing is I seem lighter and brighter,” she said. “I feel a lot more clarity of mind, and that certainly is a blessing.”

TMS is also being studied for treatment of bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and speech recovery after stroke.
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