Activating Neurons In The Brain To Treat Depression

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PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - New technology is being utilized in Pittsburgh that will help treat individuals suffering with depression.

“At this point, traditional treatment would be some sort of CBT, cognitive behavior therapy, there’s a couple other different therapy types,” Psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Wakim, CEO & Staff Psychiatrist at Transformations told KDKA Radio’s Larry Richert and John Shumway on Monday morning. “If it were to progress beyond that, then typically a medication. The most common people would know would be what are called Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Things like Prozac and Zoloft.”

Dr. Wakim said that a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health states if 100 patients with depression receive Prozac, only 1 in 4 will get better. “If you go to medication number two, it would only capture about another 20% of the remaining 75 patients,” Dr. Wakim said. “By the time you get to medication four, you’re at 6.9% chance of improvement. At that point after four medications, about 33% of the country is still not treated.”

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a FDA-approved, non-invasive treatment that uses magnetic pulses. “We’re using MRI strength electromagnetic energy to turn on neurons. When you’re using medications, our goal is to raise neurotransmitter levels to a certain threshold to get your nerves and your brain to start firing,” Dr. Wakim explained. “The problem is, that doesn’t do that very effectively and it leads to a lot of side effects. TMS physically makes those neurons turn on.”

When following FDA approved depression protocol, a patient who receives TMS treatment sits in a chair and a small, curved device containing a magnetic coil is placed on the left side of their head. Treatments are administered for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week for a little over a month, according to Dr. Wakim.

“Every single electromagnetic pulse feels like a tap,” said Dr. Wakim. “It taps 3,000 times in 18 minutes and 45 seconds. The only side effect of this treatment is scalp discomfort. Because if I were to come over and tap you on the forehead 3,000 times, you might feel a little annoyed by that.” Dr. Wakim said that only 4% of patients quit treatment for any reason.

It can also be used to treat other mental health issues and illnesses that impact the brain.  “Right now we have protocol for pain, PTSD, OCD, bipolar depression, ADHD, migraines,” Dr. Wakim said. “This can treat a number of different things. There is some recent data that suggests improvement in dementia processes,  not just Althzhimer’s. It was a little milder, mild cognitive impairment, but there’s some significant data out there that suggests this could help.”

More information on Transformations' services and TMS treatment can be found at their website.

Ashley Funyak contributed to this article.

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