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Medication vs. Transcranial Stimulation (tDCS) for Depression

A new study from Brazil has compared the benefit of medicinal therapy against low-intensity electrical brain stimulation for relief of depression. Researchers attempted to determine if transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is a comparable alternative to treatment with a common antidepressant medication (escitalopram / Lexapro).

245 patients were randomly divided into three groups; (i) group treated with tDCS plus oral placebo, (ii) the second group received sham tDCS treatment plus the anti-depressant, and (iii) the third group received sham tDCS treatment plus oral placebo. The tDCS treatment was administered in 30-minute sessions for 15 consecutive weekdays, followed by seven once-weekly sessions. Escitalopram was administered at a dose of 10 mg per day for three weeks and 20 mg per day for another seven weeks. The tDCS treatment involved transmission of very mild direct current stimulation via a headband with twin electrodes placed on the patient’s temples. Positioning the electrodes is important so that the current runs through the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – a brain area that displays diminished activity in depressed people.

The results showed that tDCS treatment was less beneficial that oral medications. Treatment with tDCS was not half as effective as treatment with escitalopram meaning that transcranial stimulation cannot be recommended as first-line therapy.

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