New York Times, February 11, 2013: – A type of brain stimulation caused by a mild electric current that appears to have minimal negative side effects is showing promise as a potential treatment for major depression, according to several studies.
The experimental therapy, known as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, involves a low-level charge about one-400th of that used in electroshock treatment. Unlike electroshock (also called electroconvulsive therapy or ECT), which is administered for a few seconds to patients under anesthesia, tDCS is given for 20 to 30 minutes continuously while patients are conscious.
While doctors do not see it replacing electroshock, considered the most effective approach for major depression that has been treatment-resistant and requires urgent attention, tDCS does not appear to cause memory loss as electroshock can. Because it is inexpensive and easily administered, scientists say it might become an alternative or additional treatment for people whose depression is not completely helped by medication.
“I think tDCS could be tried before ECT,” said Dr. Andre R. Brunoni, a psychiatrist at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and an author of a study published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association-Psychiatry. Or, he said, it could be used “for avoiding drug treatment in patients that cannot use drugs.”