A relatively new treatment technology, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) involves stimulating nerve cells within the brain via a powerful magnetic field. Currently, TMS has been used in the treatment of depression. For the time being, TMS is believed to be generally safer than psychotropic medications. It’s the least invasive of all brain stimulation procedures, requiring neither sedation nor surgery, and side effects are mild and include headache, tingling, and scalp discomfort. However, the usefulness of the approach is still in question. Large-scale clinical trials, which will answer many questions about the technology, are pending.
Researchers in China are already exploring new approaches for TMS. A study of the efficacy of the treatment for first-episode schizophrenia is currently underway. The study includes three “arms:” Risperdal (risperidone) plus TMS; placebo plus TMS; and Risperdal plus sham TMS. The study will last six weeks and include data from 60 participants. Researchers will measure progress for each participant with the PANSS scale—Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale. Individuals between the ages of 16 and 45 with an initial PANSS score of greater than or equal to 60 are eligible for participation. Exclusion criteria include risk of suicide and substance abuse disorder.
Risperdal is a standard first-line treatment for schizophrenia. It’s a member of the second generation of antipsychotic medications and has a track record of safety, with mostly minor side effects. As a condition of inclusion in the trial, participants must be experiencing their first episode of schizophrenia and not currently be on any other antipsychotic medication. Researchers expect that Risperdal alone will lead to improvement in most participants’ symptoms. On the other hand, findings may demonstrate even greater improvement when Risperdal is combined with TMS. Furthermore, the effect of TMS alone will be an important indicator of the future path of that particular treatment. Side effects and adverse events will be recorded throughout the trial.
Novel treatment approaches for mental health conditions are always in the works. Current treatments are far from perfect, and no two people respond to their treatment plan in exactly the same way. Non-invasive treatments that carry few side effects are an exciting frontier in mental health research. Transcranial magnetic stimulation promises a potentially safe and effective alternative to more intense procedures and medications.
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for First-episode Schizophrenia Patients. (n.d.). ClinicalTrials.gov. Retrieved August 10, 2012, from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01370291?recr=Open&intr=%22Risperidone%22&rank=3
- Risperidone – PubMed Health. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved August 10, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000944/
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/MY00185/
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