Electrical Currents as Treatment for Depression

Depression is a complex disorder that takes much of the joy out of life for millions of people in every corner of the world. Medical researchers have worked for decades to find answers, but so far, medications and counseling remain the primary treatments. Sometimes, the results are less than stellar.

Brain Stimulations via Electrical Currents May Help

All though scientists don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to depression, it appears that depression is linked to inactivity in the frontal lobe, a critical brain area located just behind the forehead. In recent years, some people with depression have enjoyed a certain amount of relief with various devices that stimulate activity in that area. The premise is that weak electrical currents may trigger activity between the synapses.

Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)

Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) is a hand-held device approved for over-the-counter sales in Canada and certain other countries. The gadget, about the size of a cell phone, is powered by a 9-volt battery and works via small electrodes affixed to the earlobes or the temples. Although it has been around for more than 50 years and has the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s stamp of approval, CES is available only by prescription in the U.S.

The medical community isn’t completely sold on the concept, but many health care providers think CES is worth a try when other attempts at treating depression have failed. The device is relatively inexpensive and works well when used in conjunction with counseling and/or antidepressant medications.

Advocates believe that the technique is a valid, nondrug treatment for depression, and may relieve a host of other problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as insomnia, stress, memory impairment, lack of concentration, and pain associated with fibromyalgia and other disorders.

For data-driven users, CES can be used with a cell phone app that tracks sleep, exercise, medical treatment and other information that can be sent directly to a health care provider.

Side effects are generally very minor and may include skin irritation and itching or a mild headache. Seizures aren’t usually a risk, but the device shouldn’t be used by people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.

CES: May be Effective in Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehab

Although more research is needed, it appears that CES may be valuable for addiction treatment and addiction relapse prevention. Drug and alcohol treatment professionals are hopeful that the device may alleviate the discomfort of cravings associated with withdrawal, including severe alcohol withdrawal and nicotine withdrawal.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TCDS)

Transcranial direct current stimulation (TCDS) is a similar but more sophisticated device used to target specific areas of the brain.  The electrical current is conducted through an absorbent pad soaked in saline solution.

South Korean scientists, prompted by that country’s inordinately high rate of depression and suicide, have devised a portable unit that delivers a gentle jolt of electricity via a headband. The creators hope the device will be useful for people who are hesitant to seek treatment due to concern about stigma.

TDCS is also the subject of studies for an assortment of ailments, including migraines, chronic pain, tinnitus, impairments associated with stroke, and schizophrenia. Although early results are promising, more research is needed before TCDS devices are widely available for home use.

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