Non-invasive depression treatment gives hope to sufferers - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Non-invasive depression treatment gives hope to sufferers: Special Report

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Depression is felt differently for every person who suffers from it, and for some, it can be difficult to treat.

"I was sleeping 18-20 hours a day," Tyler Tassone told FOX 32 News.

"It became severe and started interfering with my life about 35 years ago," Debby Rashman said. "I mean, it's been a long time."

For some, medication, talk therapy and in some cases electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - which induces repeated seizures to treat depression - doesn't work.

A newer technology is giving hope to patients who thought they had nowhere else to turn. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive way to treat patients with severe depression and anxiety.

The procedure is still relatively new, although it was created 15 years ago. It only recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2008.

TMS patient Tyler Tassone is taking medication to treat his depression and anxiety, along with talk therapy and he was on the verge of turning to ECT.

"It was kind of like, you have a broken down car and you're getting a new paint job," Tassone said. "Well, it looks better, but the base of it is still broken."

Instead he turned to TMS. Using the power of magnetic pulses, similar to those given through an MRI, this newer, noninvasive alternative stimulates a depressed person's brain.

"What we found in our practice is that the more pulses they receive, the better they do," psychiatrist Dr. Terry Hanusa told FOX 32. "It's an accumulative effect."

Magnetic pulses are distributed to both sides of the head, aimed at the parts of the brain believed to control mood. The process takes about 45 minutes and patients are required to come in five times a week for three weeks.

"I didn't really think when I started this that it was going to help me," TMS patient Debby Rashman said.

But, doctors say for many patients start to feel a difference after 15 treatments.

"I don't know if this is really happening, but I think I'm starting to feel like my old self again, which I hadn't been a long time," Rashman explained. "I wasn't sure if that was still possible."

Rashman began to suffer from major depression 35 years ago. She told FOX 32 she's getting to know herself all over again.

"I stopped looking over my shoulder wondering is it coming back," Rashman said. "I'm starting to do more normal things again."

"From a practical standpoint, we're seeing patients who have been tried and failed on many, many medicines and have seen many doctors," Hanusa said. "So we've only been taking on, for the most part the tougher cases and seeing good results."

Doctors believe the pulses produce small electrical currents in the brain to activate brain cells that may not be fully functioning. Doctors add that TMS treatment works in about 75% of patients. More traditional treatments, such as ECT, have some major side effects that include memory loss.

Rush University Medical Center psychology professor Dr. Philip Janicak was one of the first involved in the studying of TMS.

"Patients come to the treatment sessions independently," Janicak said. "They leave the chair and they can go out and function independently without any restrictions on their activities. We don't need a seizure to get the therapeutic effect."

As with any treatment, however, Janicak said there is a potential side-effect of an inadvertent seizure, which has affected less than one percent of patients.

"TMS is a very safe and well tolerated treatment. It has virtually no systemic effects," Janicak said. "So you don't have problems with weight gain, you don't have problems with sexual dysfunction, you don't have side effects such as dryness of mouth, blurring of vision, difficulty with urination, all of which are side-effects you can see with various anti-depressant medications."

The patients FOX 32 spoke with said with a smaller dosage of medication and TMS, they are moving on past their depression and anxiety.

"I never thought my life would be this way," Tassone said. "It was like a month and my whole world changed."

This procedure can be helpful for a number of patients, but it is also costly. On average, a round of treatments can cost $8,000-$10,000.

Some insurance providers cover the procedure, but doctors said most major providers do not. They're hoping that changes as the procedure becomes more widely used.

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