Understanding Brain Stimulation Therapies

A range of brain stimulation techniques are breaking new ground in the field of mental health treatments. Let’s take a deeper look into some of the most popular therapies and what they entail.

Mental health conditions – like depression – are acute ailments that require delicate medical intervention. However, it is estimated that almost 30% of the people with depression do not respond to antidepressants and psychotherapy. In such cases, certain brain stimulation interventions can prove to be an effective treatment for depression by relieving the emotional turmoil associated with the mental disorder.

These therapies work to directly activate or inhibit the brain using electrodes or magnets – placed either on the scalp or inside the brain. Some of the promising techniques are:

Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) – This procedure uses controlled electric currents to induce an intentional, short-term seizure in the brain. The patient is sedated before the current is passed through the brain via electrodes placed at precise locations on the scalp. This ‘shock’ therapy is used in extremely severe psychiatric cases like treatment resistant depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) – This is an intrusive therapy wherein electrodes are surgically implanted inside the brain. A pulse generator is embedded the chest and used to send electric impulses to the brain. The continuous stimulation works to ‘reset’ the brain but is used in extreme cases only.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) – This is another risky procedure where a pulse generator is again surgically implanted in the upper left side of the chest. It sends electric impulses (in bursts) to stimulate the vagus nerve that carries messages to the brain parts that control mood and sleep. The pulses alter the levels of brain chemicals to regulate the mood.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) – Here, two electrodes – anode and cathode – are carefully placed at precise locations on the scalp before using the tDCS device to send a small amount of electric current to the brain. The placement of the electrodes determines the effect it will produce – varying from treating depression to eating disorders to addiction.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – In contrast to the above techniques, TMS uses a magnetic field to activate the brain. This is the most non-invasive technique as the electromagnetic coil is placed over the head and does not actually come into contact with the scalp. The coil seamlessly delivers short magnetic pulses to targeted areas of the brain to stimulate the nerve cells and achieve functional modulations by regulating the neural activity.

TMS is of different types based on the speed of switches in polarity – like repetitive TMS (rTMS) and deep TMS (dTMS). The effects and results are also found to vary. Even the dTMS can vary and BrainsWay offered by specified depression treatment centers has proved to be the most effective in treating depression and other mental health disorders.

In short, there are diverse brain stimulation therapies that work in different ways to induce chemical and functional changes in the brain. Most of them are last-resort treatments when regular remedies fail.

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