TMS Helps With PTSD
TMS Helps With PTSD
PTSD – or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – is very real and very painful. Many of us associate the disorder with members of the military, but traumatic experiences come in many forms. From firefighters and first responders, to police officers and victims of violent crimes and natural disasters, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does not discriminate.
According to PTSD United, 70% of US adults have experienced a traumatic event which equals out to around 223.4 million people. Up to 20% of these people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result, leading to 44.7 million people who have been or still are experiencing PTSD. In fact, it is estimated that 8% of Americans – 24.2 million people – experience PTSD on any given day. And one out of every nine women develops PTSD which makes them almost twice as likely as men to suffer from it.
The stats don’t stop there. The annual cost to society of anxiety disorders is well over $42.3 billion. “PTSD is a condition that sometimes arises when a person is exposed to an extreme stress event, such as life threat, combat, or witnessing some sort of traumatic event,” says Dr. Christopher Pelic, a psychiatrist with the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. “Following exposure you might have recurrent problems with nightmares, re-experiencing, feelings of being on edge, and avoidance of things that remind you of the events. These are commonplace. In some individuals, however, symptoms become so great that they can prevent you from performing your day-to-day activities. People avoid work, social settings, and life in general in order to withdraw to a perceived ‘safe zone.’” So how do we curb this growing epidemic? We’ve been throwing medication at the problem for decades but as the stats show, they’re not making the strongest progress.
Which is why more and more doctors are turning to TMS to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know all too well, the results of PTSD on the system include persistent frightening thoughts, recurring flashbacks or nightmares, and crippling anxiety that impairs their everyday life. Psychotherapy has long been the standard response but it only works 50% of the time. And medications can be even less effective plus come with added physical side effects.
What doctors are now looking into is the biological variability that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have in their brains. A recent study released at the annual meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in New York found four unique patterns, each one corresponding to different clinical symptoms. That shows how distinct and customized patient’s treatment should be as one size most certainly does not fit all.
The various forms of psychotherapy just aren’t cutting it; from cognitive behavioral therapy to exposure therapy, doctors have been trying their best – but maybe the issue is that they’ve been looking in the wrong areas for a cure. After all, this is the brain we’re talking about – an organ grown biologically in its own unique stew of chemicals and so how could one approach solve everything? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at least in part, results from an insufficient control of frontal regions of the brain; the same areas that process fear and emotions. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers, when reminded of the trauma in any way, show both an under-performing prefrontal cortex and an over-performing amygdala. But research is showing that TMS – or focused magnetic zapping of the brain itself – improves the connections found between those frontal regions and the amygdala. And despite the effects being both temporary and reversible (chalk that up to brain plasticity), if a patient receives persistent TMS stimulation, the neuronal activity can indeed change in a very real and lasting way. According to the Journal of Affective Disorders, a study showed that 35 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers went under 40 daily sessions of TMS – and the result was that it reduced the symptoms so much so that half of the patients no longer needed further treatment of severe symptoms. This isn’t the only test either showing the benefits of TMS when combatting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We might not be at a place where TMS completely replaces other methods such as psychotherapy or medication, but used together might form a wall of treatment to be reckoned with. The process involves forcing neurons to fire by using a shifting magnetic field that pushes electrical charges inside the cells. This way you can actually change the state of the brain – and in this case, from a depressed state to a healthier one. Without getting overly technical, we can shift patterns of disorderly cognition that helps restore proper function as well as slowing down motor areas that either interfere with obsessive compulsive disorder or cause hallucinations. Another study, this one undertaken in Sichuan, China, showed that both forms of TMS (high and low frequency) are effective in reducing the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – specifically the symptoms that include re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal – as well as the associated symptoms of depression and anxiety.
But what of the patients themselves? Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and underwent TMS in hopes of finding a cure? 32-year-old former Army staff sergeant Jonathan Warren sang its praises to the Washington Post. He says TMS set his “frequencies right” and can now keep his awful memories but “not be controlled by it.”
The future looks even brighter. TMS is still early on in its development – it was only cleared by the FDA in 2008. But studies like these presented here are helping guide future clinical practice. There is plenty to still explore but what has been mapped thus far is incredibly positive and paints a glowing picture of how TMS can help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.