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NeuroStar TMS Therapy System November 17, 2009

Filed under: Healthy Mind — aprasek @ 1:28 am

The video above is pretty lame, so if you didn’t watch it, here’s my summary: the TMS Therapy system uses a targeted magnetic field to stimulate an area of the brain associated with mood. Treatment lasts 40 minutes daily for four to six weeks. Neuronetics, the developer of the TMS Therapy, claims the device is “an effective option for treating major depressive disorder.” Learn more from the TMS website.

Brain stimulation therapies like this have been around for a long time. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) was developed in 1938 (see earlier WG post on ECT) and I suppose we could go as far back as 10,000+ years when trepanation began. Trepanation is a surgical procedure to create a hole in the skull. Sharp stones, knives and “drills” were used to remove bone and sometimes surgeons would dig further to remove brain tissue. In the case of mental illness, trepanation was mainly believed to release evil spirits. And the treatment is actually still in practice today in small tribal cultures. Learn more about Trepanation (AKA trephination)– it’s a seriously fascinating read.

Back to TMS… It’s important to know that researchers are uncertain as to how brain stimulation techniques might work and if they are truly successful. In the case of TMS, there is no evidence to support the details of the treatment. Specifically, is TMS targeting the right area of the brain? Why have the treatment for 40 minutes? Why 20-30 sessions? Are there long-term side effects? TMS is really only backed up by two studies and there are concerns about the accuracy of the findings.

But, here’s my main issue with TMS: there are serious financial side-effects from this contraption. Individual sessions cost around $300. That means the full treatment would set you back $6,000 to $9,000. Individuals dealing with major depression who are unresponsive to traditional treatment are in a vulnerable state and are often desperate to find some sort of relief. And based on the crazy price for this treatment, I think TMS is taking advantage of this.

Believe me, I understand that when an individual is fighting against suicidal thoughts, some side effects just aren’t important anymore and any bit of relief can be a blessing. But, if the treatment is no more successful than doing absolutely nothing (which, in my opinion, has yet to be determined for TMS) then, why not spend a lot less money on a treatment (perhaps in combo with medication) that offers at least a little evidence of success (e.g., holistic psychotherapy, acupuncture, herbal tonics and supplements, MBSR, nutritional interventions, yoga…)?

I would love to hear some other thoughts on this treatment (or other brain stimulation therapies), so please share your thoughts by commenting below 🙂


7 Responses to “NeuroStar TMS Therapy System”

  1. Wendy Says:

    Aimee–There is a new book on Deep Brain Stimulation by Jamie Talan that might be worth a read. Also, Carrie Fisher (aka Princess Leia) talks about using ECT to combat depression/bipolar disorder in her one-woman play (and now book), “Wishful Drinking.” It does work for some people. Mayo Clinic uses DBS to treat Parkinson’s.

  2. Aimee Says:

    Thanks for the book suggestion Wendy! I will def check it out. The work with DBS is really interesting. I’ve heard that some of the trials for OCD have been successful (I haven’t read the studies first hand though). But, DBS is seriously invasive…

    Carrie Fisher’s story is so interesting- I haven’t read her book though. Did you? Let me know if it’s worth it 🙂

    I completely agree that for some individuals, many of these therapies seem to work. However, in my understanding, whether relief comes from the treatment itself, side effects from the treatment, placebo effect, etc. is really uncertain. And TMS is very different than ECT, MST, VNS or DBS… so research can’t carry over from therapy to therapy. I think TMS needs more research before it deserves such a huge sticker price.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Too expensive!!
    No way insurance will cover this when drugs are much cheaper.
    Also this sounds so much like “shock” therapy. Which is still used today.

  4. Aimee Says:

    Good point, Lisa. I would be curious in what cases insurance would cover a treatment like this.

  5. Not a charlatan Says:

    I am a physician, psychiatrist trained in TMS- it does NOT work-save your money- any benefit is from the support you get from staff that see you everyday. Beware!!

  6. Aimee Says:

    “support you get from staff” I would agree. When you have that many people focused in on you and assuring you that you ARE going to get better that this WILL work, then you’ve got to take that into consideration. That’s a lot more encouragement and support than a bottle of Prozac.

  7. Craig Says:

    After 20 years of struggling with depression (I have had multiple hospitalizations, ECT, tried dozens of drugs, etc.) I underwent TMS therapy six months ago. It made a world of difference for me. I felt “like myself” for the first time in years. Six months later, I am still doing well and I am completely satisfied with my $10,000.00 investment. TMS is effective and worth the money–I spent over $3,000.00 last year on just prescription co-pays for drugs that didn’t work anywhere near as well as TMS.

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