Study finds nerve stimulation can help depression patients

22 August 2018 (Last Updated August 22nd, 2018 12:01)

A study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has indicated that nerve stimulation can significantly improve quality of life in patients suffering from depression.

Study finds nerve stimulation can help depression patients
Washington University psychiatry professor Charles Conway holds a vagus nerve stimulator. Credit: Matt Miller.

A study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has indicated that nerve stimulation can significantly improve quality of life in patients suffering from depression.

The nation-wide study, conducted in approximately 600 subjects, showed improvements even when disease symptoms did not completely subside.

During the study, the researchers recruited patients who did not experience any relief with prior therapy using four or more antidepressants.

“The researchers observed that the study participants treated with nerve stimulation were feeling better even when their depression scores had only reduced by 34%-40%.”

Of the total subjects, 328 were surgically implanted with vagus nerve stimulators. These devices are intended to deliver regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve.

Meanwhile, 271 patients received usual therapy such as antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy.

The researchers then compared the quality of life between the two arms by assessing 14 different factors, including physical health, family relationships, ability to work and overall well-being.

It was observed that vagus nerve stimulation yielded better results in terms of 10 measures such as mood, ability to work, social and family relationships, and leisure activities.

Washington University psychiatry professor Charles Conway said: “A lot of patients are on as many as three, four or five antidepressant medications, and they are just barely getting by.

“But when you add a vagus nerve stimulator, it really can make a big difference in people’s everyday lives.”

A person is required to achieve a 50% decline in their standard depression score to be considered as experiencing a response to depression therapy.

However, the researchers observed that the study participants treated with nerve stimulation were feeling better even when their scores reduced by 34%-40%.