Depression: Treatments for Depression (cont.)

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy)

This is a safe and effective treatment for people with serious depression. It's typically used on people who haven't been helped by medicines or therapy.

In ECT, your doctor will use electric charges to create a controlled seizure. These seizures seem to change the chemical balance of the brain. It may sound scary. But during the procedure, you'll be unconscious, so you won't feel anything.

ECT tends to work very quickly. It also works well -- about 80%-90% of people who receive it show improvement. The most common side effect is temporary memory loss.

You might have up to 12 sessions over a few weeks. Some people get "maintenance" therapy with ECT to prevent depression from returning.

Experimental Treatments

Other treatments are being tested right now. Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) is a treatment for epilepsy that researchers are trying with depression. It involves implanting a small device in your chest, like a pacemaker. But instead of sending electrical charges to the heart, it sends them to a nerve in your neck. These charges may change the balance of chemicals in your brain and relieve depression.

Other treatments involve powerful magnets to change the levels of brain chemicals. None of these approaches have been approved for people with depression. But they may be in the future.

Alternative Treatments

Some people use herbs, supplements, and other alternative therapies for depression. However, none of these approaches has been proven to work. Herbs and supplements -- like St. John's Wort -- can have side effects and cause interactions with other medicines. Never start taking an herb or supplement without talking to your doctor first.

Other unproven alternative treatments -- like acupuncture, hypnosis, and meditation -- may help some people with their symptoms. Since they have few risks, you might want to try them, provided that your health care provider says it's OK.

Published April 2005.

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD.

SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association: "Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depression," 2000. Fochtmann, L. and Gelenberg, A. Guideline Watch: Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, 2nd Edition. Focus, Winter 2005: vol 3: pp 34-42. Compton M. "Depression and Bipolar Disorder," ACP Medicine, Psychiatry II, 2003. DeRubeis, R. Archives of General Psychiatry, April, 2005; vol 62: pp 409-416. Glass R. The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 14, 2001; vol 285: pp 1346-1348. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "What You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Psychotherapy: How It Works and How It Can Help." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "New Technologies in the Treatment of Mood Disorders." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Finding Peace of Mind: Treatment Strategies for Depression and Bipolar Disorder." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Healthy Lifestyles." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Guide to Depression and Bipolar Disorder," 2002. National Institutes of Mental Health: "Depression," Reprinted 2002. National Institute of Mental Health: "Medications," Revised 2002. National Institute of Mental Health: "The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America." ©1996-2005

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Last Editorial Review: 11/8/2005

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