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TMS did prove to be very safe: Patients in the NeuroStar study suffered no seizures or memory problems like shock therapy can cause, or other reactions throughout the body. The chief complaint from the sessions was headaches.
The FDA cleared the device after focusing just on a subset of the patients initially enrolled -- 164 who had failed one antidepressant during their current bout of depression, not those who were more severely treatment-resistant.
What's a modest benefit? About 24 percent who got TMS scored significantly better on standard depression measures after six weeks, compared with 12 percent who got the sham, says Janicak. That's about as well as patients respond to a single antidepressant, he says.
Some reported remarkable improvement.
"One day it was like a light switch went off," says Steve Newman, 60, of Washington, D.C., who enrolled in the NeuroStar study at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005.
Newman had suffered repeated bouts of depression since he was a teenager, and drug after drug barely blunted it. He was considering shock therapy when he heard about TMS.
After two weeks of treatment, Newman was wondering if he was getting the sham -- when suddenly, he started feeling lots better, and doctors spotted a corresponding major improvement in his depression measurements.
"I was awake. I was there," says Newman who said he still gets what he calls a "maintenance dose" of TMS about once a month.
Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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