Seasonal affective disorder
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is commonly called shock treatment. It has received bad press, in part for its potential memory-depleting effect. Since its introduction in the 1930s, ECT has been significantly refined, and is now considered an effective and safe treatment for severe depression in the appropriate situation. It is especially effective for patients with severe depression who experience delusions and hallucinations. Maintenance ECT may also help prevent relapse.
Candidates for ECT. ECT may be helpful for the following patients with severe depression:
The Procedure. In general, hospitalization is not necessary. ECT involves the following steps:
Side Effects. Side effects of ECT may include temporary confusion, memory lapses, headache, nausea, muscle soreness, and heart disturbances. Concerns about permanent memory loss appear to be unfounded.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) uses high frequency magnetic pulses that target affected areas of the brain. This investigational treatment is similar to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) but, unlike ECT, it is more precise. However, it is not yet clear whether it as effective as ECT. Researchers are continuing to refine rTMS techniques to attempt to improve treatment outcomes.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a procedure that is effective for certain patients with epilepsy, and is now showing some success in patients with treatment-resistant depression
VNS involves implanting a battery-powered device under the skin in the upper left of the chest. The neurologist programs the device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. The two vagus nerves are the longest nerves in the body. They run along each side of the neck, then down the esophagus to the gastrointestinal tract. The vagus nerve travels to areas of the brain that control functions such as sleep and mood.
Studies report response rates of 35 - 46% in appropriate candidates with treatment-resistant depression. VNS is approved by the FDA for long-term treatment of chronic depression in adults who have not responded to typical treatments for their major depressive episode. Patients who use VNS may continue to show improvement in both their depression symptoms and quality of life.
Vagal stimulation can cause shortness of breath, hoarseness, sore throat, coughing, ear and throat pain, or nausea and vomiting. These side effects can be reduced or eliminated by reducing the intensity of stimulation. Long-term studies on patients with epilepsy have reported no serious adverse side effects, although the treatment may cause lung function deterioration in some people with existing lung disease.
Phototherapy is recommended as treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), particularly for patients who do not wish to try antidepressants.
The Procedure. The procedure is noninvasive and simple. It is best performed immediately after waking in the morning. The patient sits a few feet away from a box-like device that emits very bright fluorescent light (10,000 lux) for about 30 minutes every day.
Some people report mood improvement as early as 2 days after treatment. In others, depression may not lift for 3 - 4 weeks. If no improvement is experienced after that, depressive symptoms will be unlikely to respond to phototherapy. Phototherapy may work best when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Side Effects. Side effects include headache, eye strain, and irritability, although these symptoms tend to disappear within a week. Patients taking light-sensitive drugs (such as those used for psoriasis), certain antibiotics, or antipsychotic drugs should not use light therapy. Patients should be examined by an ophthalmologist before undergoing this treatment.
A surgical technique called cingulotomy interrupts the cingulate gyrus, a bundle of nerve fibers in the front of the brain, by applying heat or cold. A variation of this procedure using MRI scans to guide the surgeon has been shown to produce long-term improvement in patients with severe intractable depression. The procedure is generally safe with few serious complications. It does not affect intellect or memory.
Some small studies have suggested that acupuncture may help in relieving depression. Larger studies are required to confirm its benefits.
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