Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New Treatment For Depression

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy, VNS, is a recently approved long-term treatment for depression. The FDA specifically approved this treatment for those who suffer from major depressive episodes, but who have not had an adequate response to four or more antidepressant treatments. Major depressive disorder affects nearly 19 million Americans each year. Unfortunately, one fifth do not respond to multiple antidepressant treatments. For these people, psychotherapy, medications and even sometimes electroconvulsive therapy does not work, or only works for a short while then stops working over time. This is refered to as Treatment Resistant Depression,TRD.
VNS therapy was first approved for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in 1997 and is now available for those 18 years and older with TRD. Dr. Sarah H. Lisanby, director of the Columbian Brain Stimulation Service at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, believes patients need safe and effective therapeutic options. The availability of the FDA approved treatment is an important development for the disturbingly large number of people with depression who have not responded to other treatments. She believes that open studies suggest that the benefits were sustained over time with very tolerable and few side effects. Half of the patients with an average of 25 years of major depressive disorder saw some benefit. One third had at least a 50 percent improvement and one out of six was depression free after treatment. They also reported signficant improvements in their quality of life.
The VNS therapy is delivered through a small device similar to a pacemaker that is implanted in the chest area. It sends mild pulses to the brain through the vagus nerve that is located in the neck. A thin, insulated wire is attached to the generator and runs under the skin to the left vagus nerve. The nerve serves as the body's "information highway" that connects the brain to many major organs. Studies have shown what VNS therapy may modulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine thought to be involved in mood regulation.

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